Once again, the Indiana Pacers were chasing the lead in the fourth quarter.
Unlike last night, though, the Pacers were able to get over the hump and close within striking distance before falling two points short which gave the Milwaukee Bucks the 112-110 win.
The offense was flowing for both teams in the first half which was mighty fun to watch. The Pacers started small with Troy Murphy at center in hopes of making Andrew Bogut have to chase Murph out to the arc and also keep the Bucks' center from setting up shop on Roy Hibbert.
The plan worked out pretty well (much to my chagrin, more on my chagrin later) as Bogut picked up some early fouls and battled through foul trouble most of the game. With T.J. Ford and Earl Watson playing together the Pacers weren't settling for as many perimeter shots. They actually pushed the ball in the lane and shot lots of free throws (19 more than the Bucks...seriously).
Despite the nice offensive flow in the first half, the Pacers were down five at the break thanks to a 9-3 run to close the second quarter by Milwaukee.
Then the Pacers reverted back to their "old school" method of losing by showing up flat in the third quarter and getting buried by a double-digit deficit that would make winning a chore. Naturally, the Pacers showed signs of life once the fourth quarter began. Luther Head opened winning time with five quick points which shifted the mind set of everyone in the Fieldhouse.
But this Bucks team is good and getting better as the season wears on. The addition of John Salmons only bolstered their roster as he makes a perfect offensive compliment to play alongside the defensive-minded Luc Mbah a Moute. Salmons has given the Pacers fits the past couple of years and tonight was no different as he left the Fieldhouse with 20 points including two critical free throws with 12 seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game. The good news is that Salmons won't be with the Bulls at the Fieldhouse on Saturday. Yep, that's good news these days.
Salmons and Brandon Jennings made all of the winning plays with the W in the balance. Jennings was especially impressive, flashing his Rookie of the Year credentials down the stretch. With the Pacers in hot pursuit and seemingly making everything they threw up, Jennings kept the run at bay twice by hitting stone cold jumpers which included a three-pointer. Either miss would've added fuel to the Pacers run and kept the momentum flowing. As it was, the makes were body blows that force the Pacers to catch their breath again and mount another run.
For some reason, the Bucks made things interesting by fouling Danny Granger and T.J. Ford behind the arc. With the Pacers down four after Salmons made his free throws, Granger pulled the string on his first free throw then made two. With 8 seconds left, Jennings stepped to the line and pushed the lead back to four by calmly cashing in his two free throws. That left T.J. Ford shooting three meaningless free throws with one second left. He only made two.
Bucks closed out the win while the Pacers came up short.
A few more thoughts after the jump:
- I'd much prefer to see Roy Hibbert start these types of games and give the Pacers a post presence, even though I readily admit the matchup worked out well for the Pacers. After a couple of fouls on Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova came off the bench and JOB countered with Hibbert. The big fella scored six quick points, but ended up only playing 10 minutes on the night (scored 12).
- Ilyasova is a perimeter big ala Troy Murphy or maybe closer to a young Dirk Nowitzki. He ended up playing plenty of minutes for the Bucks and finished with 17 points. Anyone who scoffed at the Pacers trying to include him in a deal for Murphy may have a different take if they watched the game tonight. The young fella can play.
- The Bucks actually shot more three-pointers than the Pacers (18 to 16), but the 16 3-ball attempts by the Pacers reveals how they emphasized pushing the ball into the paint. The results speak for themselves with 44 FTAs. T.J. Ford and Danny Granger combined to shoot 18 of 20 from the line. Of course, those two misses were at the end of the game.
- Brandon Rush was quiet all night, only taking three shots and not scoring until the middle of the fourth quarter when he hit a big corner three as part of an 8-0 run that pushed the Pacers over the hump of what seemed like a constant 11-point deficit.
- Danny Granger finished the game with 21 points but only had six second-half points and one fourth quarter field goal before getting fouled on the three attempt with 10 seconds left in the game.
- Jerry Stackhouse had a nice game off the bench, now in the twilight of his career as a journeyman vet. His career seemed about over last year, so all praise to the former high-flyer for putting in the work to take advantage of his veteran knowledge and make an impact for the Bucks. I'm partial to Stack since I heard he used and continues to use p90x to stay in shape before joining the Bucks.