The Indiana Pacers led all the way but still almost lost.
The Pacers ambushed the Bobcats in the first five minutes of the game, jumping out to a 21-7 lead. They made eight straight field goals including three from behind the arc and another couple perimeter shots and three layups. The Pacers made it look easy with nice ball movement. In fact, six of the first eight buckets were assisted. Funny how those perimeter shots start falling with good passing finding shooters in rhythm as opposed to just standing and jacking up shots.
But the action in this game was just getting started.
Despite the fast start by the Pacers, Charlotte worked their way back into the game and cut that early lead to four late in the first quarter. The Pacers maintained control of the game though and took a ten-point lead to the half.
Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy were wearing out the nets in the first half, combining for 27 points including five 3-balls, but T.J. Ford was running the offensive show. He finished the half with 9 assists, several on nice kick-out passes after breaking down the Charlotte defense on the dribble.
When Ford opened the third quarter with his tenth assist and Murphy knocked down another three-pointer, it appeared like the Pacers might run away and hide. They did push the lead to 18 early in the third, but from there the home team held on for dear life as the lead gradually dwindled until a corner three to tie the game left Gerald Wallace's hand with four seconds left to play.
As the final score indicates, Wallace missed, but the game was not over. No way. Couldn't be that easy could it?
With 1.8 seconds left, Dahntay Jones missed two free throws when one would've iced the game. After a timeout, the Pacers once again had to defend their three point lead for 1.4 seconds and that's exactly what they did.
With the refs taking their sweet time counting to five, the Pacers made it extremely difficult for Charlotte to inbound the ball. Finally Flip Murray found Boris Diawas he popped to the top of the arc. Diaw was in rhythm to turn around a let the 3-ball go, but T.J. Ford rotated off of D.J. Augustin to greet Diaw in mid-turn. This force Diaw to pass off-balance to Augustin, whose shot hit all net but was released well after the buzzer sounded.
More thoughts and observations on the game:
- T.J. Ford had his game flowing tonight. Maybe having his Texas Longhorn understudy, D.J. Augustin on the other side brought his game into focus. I hope not, though. Rather think he just put everything together tonight and there will be more of this type of play to come. His 15 points and 13 assists made the Pacers go, but that final defensive play sealed the win. All of that good play, helps mask the 6 turnovers and a few gawd awful possessions down the stretch when the Pacers had multiple opportunities to put Charlotte away, but just couldn't.
- Speaking of gawd awful, the Pacers' effort to close out the game was painful. T.J. Ford had a sweet layup and 1 with 1:32 left in the game. After making the free throw the Pacers were up 8, one stop away from securing the W. But after Augustin made a three-pointer, the Ford and Earl Watson couldn't get a shot up and Brandon Rush's 3-ball was waved off after review showed it was after the shot clock lit up. Wallace is fouled and suddenly with 40 seconds left, the lead is down to three points. The Pacers use up most of the shot clock before going into a play, but after one pass, Earl Watson launches a three-pointer that misses and gives the Bobcats the first of those two final chances to tie the game. Somehow the Pacers survived without scoring in that final 1:32.
- Troy Murphy was a monster for the Pacers, shooting the ball better than he has all year and maybe even last year. Murph had 26 points and 15 rebounds. He scored on 10-13 from the floor including 5-7 from 3-land. He also had three assists and zero turnovers.
- Dahntay Jones struggled off the bench making just 2 of 8 shots and missing those critical free throws that would've sealed the win. Jim O'Brien did turn to Jones to finish the game with the Pacers hanging on to the lead with a death grip. Getting the stops was more important than the offense at that point.
- Tyler Hansbroughhad trouble getting his shots to fall but he played some solid minutes down the stretch in the fourth quarter. He had a nice bucket inside off a floating feed from T.J. Ford and then with two minutes left and the lead down to five, Hansbrough was clobbered underneath the hoop and sent to the line. He calmly knocked down both free throws to push the lead back to seven. The Bobcats weren't through coming at the Pacers, but those makes were huge to keep Charlotte at bay. After struggling at the free throw line through much of the young season, Hansbrough is now 19-23 from the line in the past five games which is more in line with his college free throw success.
- Jim O'Brien found some time for rookie A.J. Price in the first half, allowing the rookie point guard almost ten minutes of burn. Price came out firing...and missing, but per usual, Price helped push the Pacers in the right direction leaving the lead seven points better than when he entered the game.
- The Pacers have won three of their last four games and now head out for back-to-back road games at Memphis and San Antonio beginning Friday.