A funny thing happens when a team is short-handed with the season poised to go down the drain. When everyone expects you to lose, the lack of pressure allows you come out loose and play easy, as if you have nothing to lose.
That's exactly how the Indiana Pacers played on Friday night in Minnesota as they ended their 10-game road losing streak by beating the Timberwolves, 112-105.
Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and Jeff Foster weren't available for the Pacers, while Minnesota was without center Al Jefferson. The missing talent and low expectations gave this game the feel of a preseason scrimmage early in the game. But playmakers stepped up on both sides and it turned into a shootout.
For those of you hoping the Pacers lose every game to improve their draft status, don't be too upset with this win. The Timberwolves weren't a very good team tonight, and while the Pacers led most of the game, the game ended up far too close as the Pacers let a double-digit lead slip down the stretch.
For those hoping the Pacers use this win as a springboard for a winning streak, don't get too excited. Again, the Timberwolves weren't a very good team tonight. Without Jefferson, the Timberwolves were real soft in the middle with almost no offensive post presence. Their perimeter players didn't shoot well until late, but they were able to get in the lane and draw trips to the line. But once at the line, Minny missed 18 of their 41 attempts. Yeah, that might have been a factor.
Credit the Pacers, though, for putting together an incredible team effort. Everyone who played scored and the defensive effort to cover up Minny's shooters was real good most of the night. But at this point, I'm more interested in how individual players performed as part of the team, so here's a few thoughts on the key players tonight:
- Marquis Daniels earns top billing for his stellar play, starting in the place of Granger. Quisy played 41 minutes and came out smoking. He even hit a 3-ball with a smooth stroke from behind the arc, so you know he was feeling it. He tired down the stretch but still finished with 24 points. He was real noticeable on the defensive end, though. It seemed like Quisy was all over the place disrupting the passing lanes. He ended up with two steals and according to JOB, 14 deflections on defense. 14 sounds about right.
- Troy Murphy logged another double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Three of Murph's four makes from the field were three pointers, but he struggled to finish on several forays into the lane. His quest for every rebound bit the Pacers late in the game, when a missed Minny free throw was falling to Brandon Rush, but Murph ran over to swipe it and in turn, lured Brian Cardinal who somehow dislodged the ball from Murph's grip and had it go out of bounds to the TWolves.
- Jarrett Jack played monster minutes once again and played the role of closer by making 6 straight free throws in the final 30 seconds of the game to keep Minny down and out.
- T.J. Ford had his moments of both good and bad. He had a real bad moment early in the second half when he ran into Murphy's elbow which opened a gash over his left eye. Ford was able to return to finish the game in the fourth quarter. His spotty play overall was highlighted by five turnovers and a few unwarranted takes in the lane. I was concerned that without Granger and Dunleavy that T.J. may dominate the ball more than usual and put up a lot of shots, but I can't complain about that tonight.
- Roy Hibbert struggled with foul trouble early in the game which again limited his minutes througout. Roy had a big size advantage on offense, but continued finding himself in no man's land on defense. This has him in between drawing a charge and trying to block a shot, but ends up with a collision with the offensive player.
- Brandon Rush had a mixed bag of results as well. He looked plenty confident, not hesitating to get involved on offense and even hit a few perimeter shots. He had a few weak finishes at the hoop and after seeing him pull up for a nice little jumper in the lane, I'd much prefer that play to the bracing-for-a-foul finish where a foul won't be called despite the contact. His best finish of the night was in the fourth quarter when he took it strong to the rim and did draw a foul. The best part was after the whistle when Jarrett Jack could be heard imploring Brandon to "dunk that ball!"
- Maceo Baston was huge off the bench bringing plenty of production in his 16 minutes of play. He finished with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, but the numbers don't reveal how much energy he brought to the defensive end of the floor and the effort he expended to get some of those 8 rebounds.
- Travis Diener was also big off the bench finishing with a +/- rating of +22 in a little over 19 minutes. Diener had 6 assists, 0 turnovers and 3 steals to help fuel the Pacers while he was on the court.
- Curious by their absence in the rotation tonight were Stephen Graham and Josh McRoberts. After hearing about the potential trade offers involving Graham, I figured that might be why he didn't play in Charlotte on Wednesday night, but again tonight he sat all 48. JOB went with Ford, Diener and Jack to end the game and even with Ford out until late in the game, Stevie sat.
- McRoberts was ready to go tonight but only played the final 26 seconds of the first half. Considering the depleted front line of Minnesota, this would've been a great matchup situation for Josh to play and succeed. He did score at the buzzer before the half as he cashed in a half-court airball from Rush. JOB and Bird talked about getting Mac some more minutes, hopefully it wasn't just talk.
- The Pacers should get a stronger test on Sunday afternoon when the new look Chicago Bulls come to town for a noon tip.