Never a dull moment at the Fieldhouse.
The Indiana Pacers just couldn't shake the Memphis Grizzlies all night and then played plenty shaky down the stretch, but eventually hung on to post another W, 104-99.
The key story lines from this game revolve around the rookies and the near collapse as once again an opponent 3-ball in the waning seconds forced the Fieldhouse faithful to inhale heavily with ball in flight. This time, this one time, the ball clanked harmlessly, falling into T.J. Ford's hands with 3.5 seconds to go.
Foul. Free throw. Free Throw. Exhale.
But back to the rooks for a moment. Both Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert started tonight with T.J. Ford's minutes used sparingly until the second half as he was still under the weather with his bout with the flu. The rookie results were a mixed bag which I guess is better than all bad.
Hibbert followed his familiar pattern of early foul trouble, leaving the court midway through the first quarter with three fouls. Again, in a physical game he is whistled for every bit of contact. Still, he has to figure out what to do with his arms and body at the same time because sometimes the awkward movement attracts attention to his every move around the ball. With a reputation for fouling established, refs are ready to hit him up even before the play is finished.
Hibbert finished the game with five fouls but didn't play the final 15 minutes of the game. Once things tightened up, Jim O'Brien tightened up his rotation and since Roy wasn't stopping Marc Gasol as it was, JOB went another direction for the win.
Brandon Rush played pretty well most of the night, building off his solid second half in New York. After working his way through the first nine minutes of the game, Rush didn't return for the rest of the first half. JOB started him in the third quarter, though, and Rush went off, scoring 12 points and not slowing down to think about anything. It seemed like he exploded for 10 of those points in a couple of minutes.
JOB kept Rush on the bench in the fourth quarter, though, until a dire defensive situation prompted the coach to insert Rush. With 46 seconds left and the lead down to four, Rush replaced T.J. Ford to cover O.J. Mayo. The move worked as Mayo was forced into an ugly shot after Troy Murphy came over and blocked the attempt.
This leads to the near-collapse the Pacers suffered by mixing a heavy dose of turnovers with just enough missed free throws to drive the home crowd crazy. After the game, when asked about the late free throw misses, Jim O'Brien said, "I was in a state of angst over the turnovers and the difficulties from the line." You and me both, Coach.
The Grizzlies just kept hanging around and the Pacers let them with six fourth quarter turnovers, most late in the game when the W was available to seal up and stow away. Then there were the free throws beginning with 29.3 seconds left in the game and a four-point lead. Up until that point, the Pacers were 14-14 from the line, but Jarret Jack made just 1 of 2, to put the Pacers up 5. Fine, still a two-possession game.
Gasol scores quickly for the Griz and they foul T.J. Ford with 21.3 seconds left. Ford only makes 1 of 2 and now the lead at 4 (101-97).
Gasol scores quickly again, and Jack is fouled with 11.9 seconds left. Great, seal it JJ. Nope. He makes 1 of 2 and now the lead is down to a measly three points or to put it another way, another heart-thrashing 3-ball from a tie game. Fortunately, as mentioned above, Rudy Gay's real nice look from the corner, only caught iron.
As JOB mentioned after the game, it wasn't a thing of beauty but it was nice to win after not playing a great game. Yes it is.
A few more thoughts:
- Jarrett Jack was subdued after the game considering the way it finished, but his overall play continues to make a big impact. All of a sudden, Jack is a reliable shooter to go along with his M.O. of leaving everything he has on the court. Jack finished with an efficient 20 points on 13 shots.
- Troy Murphy had another double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, which for him could be considered a pedestrian effort these days. The 3-ball was a little short and flat tonight, so that kept his scoring in check.
- T.J. Ford also chipped in 20 points playing 28 minutes at less than 100%. The Pacers needed all the help they could get tonight, so that production has big.
- Marc Gasol looked real good for the Grizz. He was a load that the Pacers thin front court struggled to contend with all night.
- Rudy Gay on the other hand was nearly a non-factor. In fact, I forgot he was playing in the second half until Jeff Foster stuffed one of his shot attempts in the fourth quarter. For that reason alone, I was sure he would rise up and hit that final three.
- Stephen Graham played some solid second quarter minutes, knocking down a couple of threes and bringing his trademark energy. Been some time since I've seen my man, Stevie back in a groove.
- One last item on Rush and JOB calling on him to defend late in the game. That move certainly showed a lot of confidence in the rookie, especially considering the game was tightening up.
- I overheard a nice comment just prior to the game. A husband and wife were looking for their seats and an usher offered some help. The husband boasted, "These are going to be our seats for the whole season next year so we'll be seeing you a lot."