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Pacers 99, 76ers 86: Indiana Defense Leads to Home Opener Victory

With plenty of buzz in the air for the Pacers home opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, it was important the Pacers not only build on their exciting victory against Charlotte, but give the home crowd something to cheer about. It was a big test for Indiana to not have a let down after last night. Walking away with a convincing 99-86 victory, the Pacers seem to have passed, and the fans showed their appreciation.

A quality turnout at Conseco Fieldhouse, including the debut of Area 55, helped fuel the team to their victory, giving an atmosphere many of the players were excited to play in. After the starters pushed the team to a first quarter lead, the second unit struggled mightily, allowing Philadelphia to go on a 23-5 run into the second quarter, led by Louis Williams, who had eighteen points by the half. Danny Granger and Darren Collison fueled an 11-0 run immediately after, to cut the lead to two, as Granger scored his first 10 points in the comeback in the second quarter as the Pacers pulled even with Philly at the half.

In the third quarter, the Pacers worked to blow the game wide open. Granger immediately set the tone with five quick points, but as the third quarter progressed, something curious happened: the team’s defensive intensity was unflappable. Suddenly, the team found themselves in the perfect position for rebounds, offensive fouls, and forcing turnovers. The Pacers built a double digit lead halfway through the third and never looked back. So much for a third quarter collapse.

While the defensive effort sustained itself through the second half, allowing 35 points for the Sixers in the second half, the real issue came at the cost of the offense. After highlight reels led by Darren Collison and Josh McRoberts, the offense suddenly became stagnant as the fourth quarter progressed. Gone was the high energy movement and smart cuts, replaced by bad passes and standing. Danny saw few touches in the stretch, neither Collison nor T.J. Ford could close the game out, but the daggers were sunk in by Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough.

Certainly, the team shouldn’t expect to maintain leads against many teams with sloppy offensive possessions, but there’s plenty of time to correct some offensive issues while hoping to maintain the defensive effort before the team tips off on Wednesday. After the jump, numerous high points from the Pacers defensive victory:

  • Danny Granger had zero points in the first quarter, taking a little while for his shot to start falling, but ended up the game high scorer with 22 points. Granger deserves much credit for his defensive effort, really stifling Andre Iguodala all night, while #33 looked absolutely lethal on the offensive end.
  • While the game wasn’t in doubt heading down the stretch, Tyler Hansbrough once again had a huge hand in making sure it could be closed out with purpose. Rebounds, timely positioning, Hansbrough is quickly becoming an invaluable member of the team with his intelligent play down the stretch in games.
  • Darren Collison and T.J. Ford continued to share PG duties. Ford showed some tremendous playmaking abilities, but flashed some black hole tendencies at stretches. Collison was given the chance to close the game out, but an inability to control the offense had Ford finish the night on the floor once again. Collison did finish with 15 points and 4 assists, including 4 huge steals. For one night anyway, Collison’s hands were a benefit. DC was also much more aware tonight on defense, only a positive at this point.
  • The team once again saw offensive issues as the Sixers went on their only run of the night while Solomon Jones and James Posey were on the floor. However, Jim O’Brien opted to go with Josh McRoberts at the center and Tyler Hansbrough at the 4, a matchup that worked against Philly’s smaller lineup. Neither Solo nor Posey saw any action in the second half of tonight’s game. Given the size of the Sixers front court, it’s hard to tell if this is simply a one night thing, or if the poor play of Solo and Posey could mean less floor time for the both.
  • Roy Hibbert had a rough night shooting, at only 5-13, but finished with 13 rebounds, five assists, and got to the line six times, finishing with 14 and really instilling his will on both sides of the floor, enough to get him a technical foul for getting a little too vocal about his excitement.
  • Mike Dunleavy finally got his offense going tonight, finishing with 16 points on 6-13 shooting. He continued to move actively on the offensive end to end up in a good spot, and was in great position all night to grab rebounds from everywhere, finishing with nine. Only Mike’s three point shot betrayed him tonight, finishing 1-7 on a "he’s due!" three pointer at the end.
  • Paul George was selective but effective tonight, finishing with eight points on two huge three point shots. The rook appears to be getting his feet under him, and boy did he look good when he did. Fellow rookie Evan Turner also looked to be doing well, finishing with 9 points and 7 rebounds.
  • The Pacers managed to adjust well at the half to cut off the overflow of Louis Williams. Williams went 7-7 for 18 points in the first half, and finished the game 7-8 with 18 points. The Sixers couldn’t find a consistent scorer from there, especially not with Iggy.

The Pacers are off until Wednesday, when they’ll wrap up the home and home with the Sixers. Philadelphia will be coming off a game against Washington the night before, hopefully giving Indiana the advantage in sweeping the two game series. Get excited! The Indiana Pacers are alone in first place for the first time since November 3, 2007. This team certainly feels different than past teams, let's hope they really are.