The Indiana Pacers bench players are crushing teams. They are on a seven-game winning streak and should be heading toward a spot in April's NBA playoffs.
But, after toppling the Wizards with a 49-29 advantage off the bench, the Pacers are still only 8-13 after escaping out of Washington with a nail-biting finish for the blue and gold's second straight win. While the bench attempts to the lead the team to victories, the starters pulls the team in the other direction. The bench continues to outplay the starters. As Mike Wells wrote in his notebook today, the second unit scored 49 points, 17 assists and nine rebounds against the Wiz. In the past three games, the bench consisting of Mike Dunleavy, Tyler Hansbrough, Luther Head, Earl Watson and Jeff Foster have combined for 136 points, 55 rebounds and 34 assists, and have outscored its past seven bench opponents, 293-196.
There are four prominent reasons that the starters continue to get outplayed by the team's bench guys: 1) The starters are playing the opposing team's starters, a definite disadvantage for a starting unit playing without its all-star Danny Granger; 2) T.J. Ford is still starting, a definite disadvantage for any unit that the point guard inhabits, at least until he finally lives up to his billing as a leader and provides some much-needed stability at his roster spot. Until then, he continues to disappoint (including another team-high -13 in the +/- stat department last night which bumps his season total to another team high, -123);
3) The starters are on the bench in the fourth quarter. Last night, Hansbrough, Dunleavy (the free-throw savior with 0.1 seconds remaining) and Watson were killers in the final minutes; and 4) There's this thing called defense and the starters aren't playing it. The starting unit gave up 76 points in the first and third quarters combined. The Pacers gave up less in the second and fourth quarters combined (37 points) than the team did in just one of the other two periods. Obviously, these quarters are played with a mix of both units, but the tone of the quarter is set in the first few minutes and can be maintained for the remaining minutes of the stazna. The bench is setting a good tone in their quarters.
Coach Jim O'Brien on his team's spirited bench play: "I think that they know they are important and we have confidence in them to succeed. Generally you're playing against the other team's bench and I think they're hungry. Earl has done a good job."
The starters, and bench, will have a big challenge come Monday when the team visits the Magic. Watson moved from the bench unit to the starting point guard spot at the start of the second half during Saturday's win. It will be interesting to see if Watson's move is permanent and whether any other changes will occur before Monday's game. Check out the jump for more links.
- Box Score
- Photo Gallery
- AP Story
- NBA.com Recap
- The Inside the Game report from Pacers.com gives us some good quotables from after last night's crazy finish. Here's coach Jim O'Brien: "It was one for the ages. A great win for us to be able to get that and scratch out everything we did at the end ... I'm real proud of our guys. To scratch out a back-to-back on the road says a lot about the toughness our guys are starting to develop. We feel very lucky to get out of here with a W."
- Mike Wells writes about Dunleavy's dedication in the gym during his rehabilitation which helped lead him to casually dropping the two game-winning free throws. Dunleavy told Wells, "Forget thinking about it in the driveway as a kid, I was thinking about that scenario lying in the hospital bed. It's all you think about, being able to have a chance to win it at the end." Wells also noted that Dunleavy played three minutes past his 24-minute restriction. O'Brien said there was "no way" he would take Dunleavy out of the game in the final two minutes because of the limit. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it you medical bastards.
- In his Pacers Insider post, Wells talks more about Dunleavy, some tidbits on Ford's amazing performance (including a 1-of-9 fourth-quarter shooting display), and more on Troy Murphy's change in his offensive approach.
- Wells also reported in his notebook that Dahntay Jones, who left the game midway through the fourth quarter, reported that he had a sore hip and shoulder after the game. Jones said he was "sore, but I'll be fine."
- Always Miller Time gives a take on the fun win for Pacers fans.
- Wizards fans apparently didn't find the last call to be...well, fair. The Washington Examiner decided that it was a call that would "be debated until the end of eternity". Nothing like a flair for the dramatic. The Washington Post puts the blame more squarely on the Wizards for blowing their lead in their final two minutes. Also, a recap from the Washington Times.
- Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen has an interesting read about his recent discussions with the commish, David Stern, about the future of the league including a more lenient zone defense, legalized gambling on the NBA and the potential lockout.