With 5:03 left in the game and the Indiana Pacers down two points, Jim O'Brien went small by putting in Marquis Daniels for Jeff Foster. I was hoping he would do that 40 seconds earlier when Danny Granger returned to the floor to finish the game, so I was happy to see the move. Since the Pacers were struggling to stop the Minnesota Timberwolves, it made since to add another offensive threat to keep pace. This gave the Pacers their best chance to win. Great move.
Except...it didn't work.
But don't throw any hindsight at me and blame JOB for taking out Foster to go small. This one is on the players, because they didn't make several plays that were there to be made with the game on the line. Simple as that.
In fact, the defense was better after the move to go small, producing some key stops including a full 24-second stop with the T'Wolves coming off a timeout. Full-court pressure by the Pacers also created two late turnovers.
If not for a lack of execution at the offensive end, the Pacers could've skipped off the court with a win. I realize that's a big "if" but let me run through the missed opportunities and you may agree.
3:23 - Mike Dunleavy makes 1-2 free throws to put Pacers up 106-105. Not huge at the time but looking back it remains a chunk of meat left on the bone.
2:57 - Ryan Gomes drains a three on a second-chance bucket after Al Jefferson hauled in an offensive rebound amongst a pair of Pacers. This is one spot where the small ball may have backfired, but Jefferson likely gets that ball even with Foster in the area. Minnesota up 108-106.
2:08 - T.J. Ford turns the ball over. Preceding the turnover, Granger had missed a three and then Minny took a timeout. Off the timeout, this is where the Pacers forced the shot clock violation. The great effort was quickly wiped out when Ford coughed up the ball. Sebastian Telfair would get fouled at the other end and make both free throws. Minny up 110-106.
1:46 - Danny Granger split a couple of defenders on the perimeter and tried to float in for a layup. Since he had to leave he feet early he wasn't able to get all the way to the rim which left enough room for Randy Foye to sneak over and make a spectacular block. No two for you. Minny still up 110-106.
1:21 - Danny Granger turns the ball over. Once again, a quick turnover after a solid defensive effort. The Pacers did a nice job containing Al Jefferson all night and this time they converged on him to block his shot at the rim. Considering the Pacers were down four, this was a huge defensive play to keep hope alive. Poof. The "hugeness" was frittered away with a sloppy dribble from Granger. STILL 110-106.
0:57 to 0:30 - More frustrating opportunities slip away after yet another defensive stop. Again, after a Minny timeout, Randy Foye missed a jumper giving the Pacers another chance to cut into the lead. At the offensive end, Marquis Daniels slipped baseline but missed a contested layup. He grabbed the rebound and had his second attempt blocked by Jefferson. Quisy grabbed the ball again and passed it out to an open Troy Murphy who passed up a three and pushed the ball over to an open T.J. Ford in the corner. Not tonight for T.J. Mike Miller would be fouled after a timeout and make both free throws to push the lead to 112-106. I would've loved to see Murph shoot that three, but a very slight hesitation allowed Gomes enough time to get there. Even so, Murph may have drawn a foul. Instead he passed it.
0:27 - Danny Granger hit an assassin 3-ball to knock the game back down to one possession at 112-109. Granger had an efficient night, scoring 28 points on 19 FGAs including 4 of 7 threes. He seemed to pace himself until the fourth quarter when he kicked it into gear and score 13 points. He was just unable to make all the plays.
0:21 - Pacers decide against fouling and T.J. Ford comes up with a steal as Mike Miller fouls him. But after Ford made the first free throw he missed the second. Pacers down 112-110.
0:15 - Minnesota chased down Ford's miss in the corner where Foye was trapped by Quisy and Murph. His desperation pass was mishandled by Telfair and T.J. Ford scooped up another steal under the Pacers hoop. He was fouled and again only made one of two free throws. Ugh. Pacers down 112-111.
0:07 - After Telfair knocked down both free throws to make it 114-111, the Pacers tried to get a quick two, but T.J.'s drive to the hoop was raked out of bounds. So with seven seconds left, Granger was able to get off a contested 3-ball to tie but this time the assassin's chamber was empty.
0:00 - Minny had the ball with 5.8 seconds to go and after inbounding to Foye, he burst up the sidelines and the Pacers didn't foul him. It looked like Granger tried to bump him twice but the refs didn't call it. After the game, Jim O'Brien said they intended to foul Foye and he thought they did, but there was no call. Instead, Al Jefferson mopped up a garbage bucket to give us the 116-111 final.
Considering the way both teams swapped buckets back and forth throughout the game, the final five minutes really ended up telling the story. Both teams had six free throw attempts and Minny made all six, while the Pacers only made three (20-29 for the game, ack). Both teams had critical turnovers late, but the Pacers couldn't fully cash in on the donations.
The little things are always the difference in these tight finishes, so when you don't take care of the ball and miss a few free throws, those little things always add up to a big loss.