It was the perfect opportunity to seal his comeback. After sixteen games spent on the bench healing his heel, Danny Granger returned, unexpectadely, to the court on Friday. With 15 seconds remaining in the game, it looked as though Granger would play the part of hero in his re-debut.
After drilling a 3-pointer to bring the Indiana Pacers within three points of the Timberwolves with less than a minute to go, Granger was again given the green light with an uncontested trey. With 19 seconds left in the game, coach Jim O'Brien called a timeout to regroup the team for a final shot. Five seconds later, Granger launched his three that clanked off the rim and landed in Kevin Love's hands which flowed easily into a dunk on the other end. The price for the early release and lapse in defense was a 116-109 loss.
The illogical call at the end is difficult to understand considering the Pacers would need to immediately get an offensive rebound on an early release (assuming Granger misses the shot) in order to avoid excessive fouling. The odds of getting a rebound against the Wolves' big front line weren't good, as evidenced by Minnesota's bold 56-36 rebound advantage. Yeah. Not gonna win games like that. Tyler Hansbrough, where art thou? Roy Hibbert and Solomon Jones, who only played eight minutes while Hibbert battled foul trouble, couldn't be counted on to use their size for gathering in rebounds and the Pacers suffered the wrath in the post. Dunleavy, Hibbert and Granger led the team in rebounding with six each. Weak sauce, my friend.
The loss spoiled Granger and teammate Troy Murphy returning from the sidelines and back into the Pacers' uniforms. Murphy shot a blisteringly 5-of-7 from 3-point land en route to a team-high 21 points (19 in the first half), while Granger tacked on 19 points of his own. But, while Granger, Murphy and Dunleavy (18 points off the bench) dominated, loosely defined, on the offensive end, the Pacers interior defense struggled mightily. Al Jefferson tore up the middle for 25 points, 12 rebounds and Love added 18 points and 13 boards. Add to that the fact that Timberwolves were gift wrapped 45 free-throw attempts, compared to the Pacers meager 17 trips to the charity stripe, and it's actually astonishing that the Pacers were nearly a 3-pointer away from tying this one in the final seconds.
The biggest reason the Pacers kept this one close was their 3-ball launching. The blue and gold made 16-of-32 from 3-point land. Check out more on this one after the jump.
- As per usual, whenever an injured Pacers player returns to action he's expected to be put on a minute restriction that limits him to short stints on the court. But Danny Granger exceeded playing time expectations in his return to the court tonight as he totaled 31 minutes, just five short of his season average.
- Killer third quarter. The Pacers were up one coming out of the halftime break before the Wolves went on a killing spree with a 17-0 run to take control in the third quarter. Minnesota eventually stretched the game to a 84-69 lead with 4:30 remaining in the third stanza. Then the Pacers started launching some 3's to make this one interesting.
Roy Hibbert had another solid offensive game as he garnered 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting. However, the foul trouble that hasn't plagued him of late came back tonight as he was one away from earning the disqualification.
- Here's your T.J. Ford Update of the Night: DNP
- In other point guard news, Earl Watson had a very quiet night, but did drop seven dimes in his starting spot in the lineup. A.J. Price picked up the pace off the bench with a 10-point, seven-assist performance.
- The NBA decided to use some incredible foresight tonight in terms of television coverage as the Pacers nor Timberwolves televised the game on local networks, therefore, hardcore fans watched gamely through the in-arena television feed. Very interesting move. And I was certain that Murpy would make the NBA pay by dropping 101 points tonight. Another lost opportunity for Murph.
- It has been nearly a month since the Pacers have won a game on the road. The last was against the Wizards on Dec. 12.