The Indiana Pacers scrapped all night against the defending champs, but after falling behind early in the fourth quarter, their comeback effort came up short leaving the Boston Celtics with a 104-99 win.
The Pacers final possession of the game illustrated the way the whole game went for the Pacers. The Pacers were down five with the 20 seconds left, so they needed a score to stay alive and hope for some missed free throws.
But the C's made the Pacers work, and after Brandon Rush missed a 3-ball attempt shot through a Ray Allen blanket, the game appeared over. But T.J. Ford kept scrapping, picked up a loose ball, missed a layup, fought for his own rebound and was eventually stuck with the ball behind the arc. With no other choice, Ford had to hoist a three over Paul Pierce. The shot came up short and harmlessly fell into Ray Allen's hands.
Like Ford's desperation jumper, the Pacers effort to rally from behind came up short. The Celtics rode the sizzling shooting of Ray Allen and an impressive debut from Stephon Marbury to put a 15-4 run on the Pacers. It seemed like Allen and Marbury were just taking turns lighting up the Pacers over the run which pushed the Celtics lead as high as 13.
Credit the Pacers for digging in and trying to claw their way back into the game, but the C's just had too much for the Pacers tonight. When you consider Allen went for 30, Rajon Rondo had 17 assists (all by the end of the third quarter), Big Baby Davis had a season-high 18 points and Marbury juiced up the home crowd with 8 points, the Pacers actually showed some resiliency by staying in the game all night.
Another positive for the Pacers was the play of Brandon Rush. Building on solid efforts in his past two outings, Rush came off the bench smoking, making three 3-balls and scoring 13 first-half points.
Unlike the past two games, when he struggled early and then turned it around in the second half, Rush was aggressive from the get go, trying to make plays and prepared to shoot the ball. You could tell by the smooth, full follow through that Rush was comfortable with his shot and playing within himself. Hard work pays off and tonight, Rush made a withdrawal.
In the second half, the Celtics accounted for Rush much better and made sure help was close. With about three minutes left in the game as the Pacers were struggling to comeback, Rush took a poor pass and tried to get up a three in a hurry (yeah, he rush-ed it). The shot missed badly but since he was out of sync on the shot he wasn't squared up, nor able to follow through as he did when splashing his shots earlier in the game. Instead he flung it. I just hope he doesn't dwell on that negative after showing so many positive signs throughout the game.
A few more thoughts:
- Yep, Troy Murphy had another double-double, this time 20 and 13. He also worked over Big Baby Davis at the offensive end. Murph was even able to take the ball to the rack on Davis which included an nice reverse layup and and even sweeter move where he employed a behind the back dribble then a spin and finished the layup with a foul. Unfortunately, Big Baby got his at the other end, including a couple of critical hoops to help seal the game for Boston.
- T.J. Ford scrapped all night but was a little too loose with the ball for my tastes. His four turnovers muck up an otherwise nice 23 point, 4 assist and 6 rebound night.
- A few times tonight, I forgot that Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy were missing. The Pacers were going toe-to-toe with the champs and it just seemed similar to the tight games earlier in the year. Granger's late game heroics were certainly missed in the fourth quarter, though.
- If the Pacers were able to sneak this W out of Boston, I may have been forced to use the "P" word again. Considering the Bulls, Knicks and Bucks all lost tonight, picking up a game on those three would've been big. But instead, the Pacers remain stuck in the muck among the Eastern Conference middle class.