Nothing like a couple of hours of good basketball to raise one's spirits.
The Indiana Pacers put together one of their most complete games of the year to jump ahead of the Orlando Magic early and then hold on late for a 107-102 win at the Fieldhouse.
Prior to the game things looked bleak. Not only did the Magic arrive having handled the Pacers with relative ease in their three earlier meetings, but Danny Granger appeared only available for minimal, if any, minutes.
But once the ball was tipped, the Pacers took the fight to the Magic for 48 minutes and Granger led the way. I'm thinking Danny had a magic cheesesteak on his way home from Philly last night because he looked and played like the All-Star forward we were used to seeing a few weeks ago.
Unlike last night, when Granger had trouble answering the bell in the second half, Danny raised his game down the stretch. He seemed to relish the matchup with Rashard Lewis and really outplayed him in the second half. Lewis simply couldn't guard Danny. In fact, Danny's 33 points were only three points less than the combined total of Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.
The knee didn't appear to hamper Danny's game, either. He never hesitated taking the ball to the hoop, and was able to step back into jumpers off either foot all night. Good news all around, proving there's a reason I don't go by Cornrows, M.D.
The other aspect of this win that was so satisfying was the playing rotation that produced the win. Most fans are at the point where they want to see what Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert can do, regardless of the outcome. Well, tonight both were heavily involved and it didn't seem to hamper the team's chances to win.
In fact, it may have helped. Roy just flat out gives a great effort while he's on the floor and tonight never backed down from the challenge Dwight Howard posed. Hibbert finished with 10 points and a couple of blocks. He also fouled out, which wasn't a horrible thing because Howard was 5-12 from the free throw line on the night. Late in the third quarter, Roy was a little overzealous with his offensive moves and came up empty against Howard which helped the Magic go on a late 9-0 run and close a double-digit Pacers lead.
As for Rush, he played almost 22 minutes as the first wing off the bench (Marquis Daniels did not play). He only had two shots and really didn't look for much offense, but his defense kept him on the floor. Rush was real solid defending his man with no help and was part of the best defensive runs the Pacers had on the evening. He also pitched in 5 rebounds with his quick hops.
Another fan lament with the Pacers is the lack of defense on most nights. Tonight defense helped make the win possible. I realize this sounds crazy because he had 21 points and 20 rebounds, but the Pacers did a great job holding down Dwight Howard. Nothing was easy for the big fella and the defense attacked him whenever the ball went his way. The result was a lot of fouls, but there were also a few clean strips and seven blocks against.
So with Danny Granger looking like the All-Star forward he is, the rookies contributing solid minutes, and a team defensive effort that showed tangible results, the Pacers may have had their most fan-friendly win of the year.
A few other thoughts:
- T.J. Ford had a huge bounce-back game after offering nothing in Philly last night. When he gets that mid-range fade-away jumper going and can yo yo between that and a drive to the hoop, he's a handful. Ford finished with 21 points, 5 assists and only 2 turnovers.
- Jeff Foster only played 12 minutes and fouled out, but those were 12 big minutes since Jeff took his turn scrapping with Howard. JOB started both halves with a small lineup including Jarrett Jack and Ford with Murph at center. The bigger lineups with Hibbert and Foster made the difference in the game, though.
- J.J. Reddick had the requisite, random season-high game for an opponent with his 17 points off the bench. He also had a critical offensive foul when he tried to clear space late in the game and elbowed fellow Dukie, Mike Dunleavy in the nose.
- Troy Murphy had another unspectacular night where he made a big contribution. This time 20 points and 8 rebounds, which are similar to the numbers he usually gives which I often take for granted.
- With 1:30 left in the game the Magic appeared to take the role of a pack of thieves, intent on stealing this one from the Pacers. Believe me, I know the feeling, and it felt like a felony in progress. The Pacers were struggling to score and Turkoglu had just cut the lead to three. The Pacers wouldn't score again until T.J. Ford made 1-2 free throws with 19 seconds left, but during that time, the Pacers held the Magic scoreless, as well. In fact, the Magic only score once in their final five possessions.
- During a few lulls in the game when the Pacers had a double-digit lead, I thought the crowd should've joined together to chant:
YOU NEED TINSLEY! (clap...clap...clap,clap,clap)
YOU NEED TINSLEY! (clap...clap...clap,clap,clap)