Where to begin? How about at the end?
The Indiana Pacers survived LeBron James calling his own foul with 0.4 seconds remaining and then took advantage of a little hardwood justice at the other end when a similar foul put Danny Granger at the line. Granger made the first and missed the second to run out the clock for well-earned 96-95 W over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The game was played at the Cavs' preferred pace and LeBron James was good for 47 points on the night, but the Pacers used a full team effort at both ends of the floor to hang with the Cavs all night and hold on for the win.
The Pacers started the game with an 8-0 run and that would be the biggest lead either team would enjoy the rest of the night. Both teams took turns holding the lead but four points became a comfortable margin late in the game. But a two-point lead with 0.8 seconds left turned quite painful for the Pacers, when the refs decided to put their fingerprints on the finish.
Off the side out of bounds, Cleveland ran a lob to LeBron at the rim. Danny Granger had inside position and the pass was a bit short. Grange went up with LeBron and knocked the ball away. Everyone goes crazy, while LeBron turns and implores Benny Adams to call a foul. Stunningly, Adams blew the late whistle at Bron's behest.
LBJ made both free throws to tie the game up with 0.4 left while JOB was ready to tear Adams to shreds. Instead, JOB called the same play for Danny Granger and as Danny went in the air, LeBron bumped into him. Joey Crawford made sure he blew the whistle just so he and Adams could sleep tonight. Danny stepped up and closed it out for a sweet W.
The Pacers become the only team in the NBA to beat the top four teams in the league, adding the win over the Cavs to the W's against the Celtics, Lakers and Magic. This fact makes the recent losses to the Knicks, T'Wolves and Wizards even more maddening. But that's the way this season is going, so do yourself a favor and enjoy this win.
Plenty more observations on some great individual contributions in this one:
- For once, I'm going to lead off by recognizing another nice night from Troy Murphy which of course means a double-double. Troy finished with 18 and 15 with those 18 points coming on an efficient 7-9 effort from the field. The sharp shooting extended beyond the arc as well, where Murph was 4-5.
- T.J. Ford made some big buckets down the stretch, none bigger than the patented fade away 18-footer he splashed with 0.8 seconds remaining. At the time, this appeared to be a redemptive game winner after a poor decision with one minute remaining allowed the Cavs to comeback from the then four point deficit. On that play, Ford found himself around the free throw line with LeBron on him. For some reason, Ford tried every move in his arsenal to get by James, but LBJ wasn't budging. Eventually Ford lost control and tried to pass the ball out but the shot clock went off. This would've been the highlight play if the Pacers lost, but instead it is a footnote. All was forgiven with the go ahead jumper.
- The rooks played big roles in this one. Roy Hibbert started the game and finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and only 3 fouls in 23 minutes of action. He had a couple of nice hook shots over Zydrunas Ilgauskas to go along with a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter. With about 6:50 left in the game and the Pacers up three, Roy started going into his hook shot, only to stop half way through and fire a pass out to an open Murphy who drained the three and pushed the lead to six. Great recognition and execution in a big moment. Also, later in the fourth, Roy stepped in and drew a charging foul on Daniel Gibson which is huge because he's appeared in position many times this year but never gets the call. This time, no rookie treatment.
- Brandon Rush played a big role in the Pacers defensive effort as they made things tough for the Cavs down the stretch. Rush only had 4 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes but those four came on two big buckets in the final four minutes of the game. JOB went with Rush to close out the game which even surprise Brandon. When Troy Murphy checked into the game for Rasho Nesterovic with three minutes left, Rush went directly to the bench, assuming Murph was coming in for him. Not tonight.
- Travis Diener made a huge impact in the second half, draining three 3-balls and finishing with a season-high 13 points. Diener also had a dandy scoop finish at the hoop.
- I enjoyed JOB's post-game response to a question about the calls at the end of regulation. In a classic deadpan, he replied that the refs were very consistent with their calls. Hey, you have the W in hand, no since picking up a fine.
- The Pacers will have to fire up after this emotional win to take on the Milwaukee Bucks tomorrow night. Two in a row heading into the All-Star break would sure be nice, wouldn't it?