Melvin Simon was known to exhibit a zest for life and competitive fire in the business world. After honoring Mr. Simon prior to the opening tip, the Indiana Pacers must've been inspired because they came out and put up the best performance of the young season.
After honoring the Pacers' past before the game, the team's future made significant contributions providing some inspiration of their own as the Pacers unleashed a strong effort at both ends of the floor en route to a smooth win over the Washington Wizards, 102-84.
Second-year center, Roy Hibbert set the tone early with a couple of hook shots and blocks along with a few rebounds all delivered with a genuine enthusiasm that lifted teammates and fans alike. No doubt, playing against his home town's Wizards gave Hibbert extra motivation. He was so pumped at times it seemed like he was high fiving family and friends back in D.C. right through the television screen. Roy finished the first half with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.
The youth movement then gave way to the rookies. Yes, Tyler Hansbrough made his long-awaited NBA debut at 4:31 left in the first quarter. With a training staff-imposed 16 minute playing limit for the game, Hansbrough immediately took advantage of his initial 6:28 of playing time leaving the floor with a quick 4 points and 3 rebounds. Within a minute, Hansbrough logged his first casualty as Caron Butler was laid out on the floor after smashing his eye into Hasbrough during a scrum. Butler would return, but the rook's presence was felt.
Hansbrough's strong play continued in the second half and although he only played 13:49 it seemed like he was on the floor for 25 minutes. His uncanny ability to draw fouls was on display as Hansbrough drew five trips to the free throw line making 7 of 10 attempts. 13 points on 7 shots in less than 14 minutes of playing time? Nice efficient debut, indeed finishing with 13 points and 5 rebounds.
There were plenty of other solid contributions which I'll touch on in the bullets, but as a team the Pacers performed well at every key stretch of the game, never letting the Wizards work their way back into the game. With a double-digit lead midway through the second quarter, the Pacers held serve and held off a Wizards run to return to the locker room at half time with a 12-point lead.
In the third quarter, the Wizards made a couple of little runs, knocking the lead down to 7 and putting a "here we go again" thought in the mind of everyone who follows the Pacers. Just as quick as the lead shrunk, though, the Pacers pushed it back to double-digits. A Danny Granger three here, a steal and easy T.J. Ford bucket there and suddenly the Pacers maintained control of the game.
The key to maintaining that control throughout the game was the defensive effort the Pacers threw at the Wizards. Everything came together tonight and you could see a team with a pep in its step that knew what they were doing and did it together.
More individual thoughts after the jump.
- Danny Granger continued to struggle shooting the ball (3-11 from 3-land) but he rose up and made some plays when needed, including a couple of second half three pointers that kept the Wizards buried. At the other end of the floor Granger did his part defensively and pitched in 4 steals and a couple of blocks. While it seems like he had another off-game offensively, Danny still led the team in scoring with 22 points.
- T.J. Ford definitely carried his swagger back from New York. Along with the 18 point, 10 rebound double-double, he spent a lot of time on Gilbert Arenas. At first sight, this seemed like a losing matchup for the Pacers but worked out quite differently. According to Mark Boyle, Washington broadcaster, Phil Chenier mentioned that Ford had always given Arenas fits when Ford was with Milwaukee and Toronto. The two didn't match up last year due to injury but the trend continued tonight. Arenas ended the game with only 13 points on a paltry 10 FGAs.
- Rookie A.J. Price saw his first significant minutes in the third quarter and like Hansbrough, took full advantage of the opportunity knocking down a pair of threes and playing like he knew he belonged on the court. Love the assertive play out of the rook. Ironically, he was on the court thanks to a sprained ankle by Brandon Rush who could use a few scoops of Price's swag on the court.
- So when do people stop refusing to admit Dahntay Jones can provide the same type of production Jarret Jack did last year. The two players have different games but after Granger, Jones has been the most consistent player for the Pacers and he continues to look more comfortable on the floor with each game. Once again he offered some fabulous finishes and finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists with a couple of steals and a block for good measure.
- As mentioned earlier, Brandon Rush left the game in the first half with a sprained ankle and didn't return to the game. I'm sure he'll be day-to-day until the Pacers' next game on Wednesday. Also, Troy Murphy (sore back) has already been ruled out for Wednesday's game against the Golden State Warriors.
- The Pacers survived another poor shooting night (40%) by improving a couple of other trouble areas. They limited the turnovers to 11 which gave them an advantage over the Wizards who turned the ball over 19 times, although it seemed like the Wiz had all of those turnovers in the first quarter. The Pacers took ten more free throws than the Wizards and enjoyed a 12-point advantage from the line. Seriously, everything went well on Friday night.