"They beat the heck out of us in the fourth quarter."
Jim O'Brien stated the obvious in his post-game comments after witnessing his Indiana Pacers lose control of a game they grasped for most of the night before eventually letting it go, losing to the visiting New York Knicks, 110-103.
The Pacers had a 13-point lead with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter and then just crumbled down the stretch. The home team ran out of gas and answers, while Al Harrington and the Knicks took advantage of their depth and fresh legs to sprint past the Pacers at the finish.
At halftime, life seemed so good for the Pacers. Danny Granger had 30 points, the team had scored 43 points in the second quarter. They had nine offensive rebounds and Roy Hibbert was on his way to another double-double. Visions of a sixth-straight win were HD clear.
Then the second half happened.
Danny Granger was blanketed by Wilson Chandler early in the third quarter and then slipped into a foul-induced coma, for the remainder of the game. After returning for the last half of the fourth quarter, the Pacers' All-Star could never get it going again. There was a brief spark of hope with two minutes left when Granger hit an 18-footer to put the Pacers up 100-99. But the Pacers would never lead again and about 30 seconds later, Granger would foul out trying to block a shot in transition.
But Granger doesn't get all of the blame. The final 5:50 of the game produced enough goats to turn this near-win into a sure-loss.
With 5:50 left in the game Dahntay Jones made a layup to put the Pacers up nine (97-86). Then the implosion went into full effect.
Earl Watson offensive foul, Watson turnover, Granger bad pass turnover, Watson's shot blocked, Hibbert missed shot, Dahntay Jones missed shot. That all happened in consecutive possessions.
Dahntay broke the string by making one of two free throws and then Granger made his two-pointer at two minutes with the game still in the balance. But then another string of slopped spilled out on the offensive end for the Pacers.
T.J. Ford bad pass turnover, Dahntay bad pass turnover, T.J. bad pass turnover (SERIOUSLY), Watson missed 3-ball.
Meanwhile, Harrington was leading the Knicks to the W at the other end. The former Pacers scored 13 points in the final 5:37 including three 3-balls which gave the Knicks all of the life they needed to believe they could steal the win. And they did.
A few more observations:
- During the fourth quarter when the Pacers still had a nice lead, JOB responded nastily to a fan yelling at him to put Granger back in the game. Seems crazy that JOB would feel the need to verbally respond at a time like that, but maybe he was the first to know his team was about to collapse.
- Hard to imagine two more diametrically opposed halves of basketball than the two that Granger put out tonight. He was making it look easy in the first half and had the look in his eye while knocking down 5 of 6 three balls. But that look was nowhere to be found after the game. Instead he sat in a heap in front of his locker and mumbled through his post-game interview, literally talking through his fingers.
- The turnovers down the stretch were so mind-numbing, I have a feeling Vegas will be checking into this one. Granger, T.J. Dahntay and Watson all had careless turnovers. T.J. coughed up three which gave the Pacers no chance to salvage the win.
- Speaking of T.J., I should've known there was some bad karma brewing early in the game when it was obvious T.J. and Dahntay weren't on the same page. With Dahntay taking the ball up the middle of the court in transition, T.J. was on the left wing waving his arms for the ball. When Jones passed to the right instead and turned it over, T.J. let his frustration show with a little pout in the corner.
- Roy Hibbert logged another double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, although only one of those came in the second half. He appeared to have his way in the post against David Lee in the first half, but Granger was going so well the Pacers didn't need to expose it. For some reason, they couldn't make it work in the second half either. Eddy Curry provided a little more beef in the middle to contend with. Yeah, I know, that last sentence is crazy. So was this game.
- Dahntay Jones didn't have his best game, equalling T.J. with 5 turnovers, but he laid his body on the line trying to get something going. He also scored a cool 25 points, finding his offense in the draft behind Granger and Hibbert. He even made a couple of threes, although I'd be fine if those were his last two treys of the calendar year.
- Earl Watson played more crunch time minutes tonight in a lineup that had him paired with T.J. Ford. Brandon Rush had another quiet offensive night, missing 6 of his 7 threes. After the game JOB mentioned that he prefers Watson at this time and Rush is dealing with normal second-year consistency issues. Hmm, whatever.
- Tyler Hansbrough burst through his 16 minute playing limit tonight, logging 20:38 and even playing a bit late in the game after Granger fouled out. The rook finished with 14 points and 5 rebounds, including a sweet follow where he was hit in mid-air, scored the bucket and drew the foul.