Coming out of the All-Star break, Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel challenged his team to treat all of their remaining 28 games as playoff games.
Well, consider the Pacers 1-0 in their playoff run after surviving a sloppy first quarter against the Washington Wizards to eventually power past the Wiz for an easy 113-96 road win.
After jumping out to a 14-5 lead, the Pacers appeared to collectively exhale, as the Wizards took advantage of six first-quarter turnovers and untold defensive lapses to flip the lead by scoring 25 points in the final 6:40 to put the Pacers down 30-25 after one.
Enter the Goon Squad.
The Goonies turned the game around early in the second quarter, fueled by some solid, veteran play off the bench by Jeff Foster and James Posey. Yep, Pose made his debut with the Goons after front-court foul trouble sent Hansbrough to the bench. The old pros helped clean up the mess left by the starters at the end of the first quarter and put the Pacers back in charge with an 18-7 run to start the second quarter.
Posey came in ready to play. Forced to guard a bigger, more athletic but far-less savvy Andray Blatche, Pose held his own in the paint, cleared the glass a couple of times, and had a steal in his six minutes of play.
He also shocked, well, everyone when he pump-faked a corner three, only to drive baseline for a reverse layup attempt. The move may have shocked himself because he missed the finish, but Jeff Foster was there to clean it up with one of his four offensive rebounds. Foster scored 4 points and grabbed 6 rebounds during the second quarter turnaround.
The starting unit took it from there, using an 11-2 run seize full control of the game before heading to the half up nine. Led by Danny Granger, the starters would deliver a third quarter-knockout of the Wizards starting the quarter with a lively 15-3 run. Granger finished the quarter with 12 of his 21 points on the games as the Pacers were in attack mode, not just looking to run but also earning 12 trips to the free throw line.
The Pacers took a 22-point lead into the fourth quarter which allowed extended minutes for the bench. All 12 players would end up scoring while key players were able to rest and stay fresh for the second half of their back-to-back games with Detroit on Wednesday night.
The Wizards offered little resistance when forced to resist, but there's no scoffing at easy road wins for the Pacers. Less than two months ago, the Pacers couldn't play their way out of trouble and dumped a game in Washington. They've come a long way since that game and have a long way to go, still. Regardless, a win like this is always worth savoring.
After the jump, a few more thoughts and observations on the win.
- Danny Granger had to shake of the All-Star break rust, missing his first few shots which were good, clean looks that simply clanked. He eventually got it going and also did his part on the glass finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
- At times, the Wizards looked completely lost on the floor. JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche have visible talent that they can flash in eye-popping fashion. But both young bigs have close to zero court awareness. McGee had the ball poked away from behind a couple of times and Blatche seemed to be out of position quite a bit on defense or when it came time to hit the glass. Blatche finished with 21 points, including some really nice buckets, but yeah, something is missing there.
- John Wall finished with 15 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds and 6 turnovers. The electric rookie seemed short-circuited much of the night bouncing between apparent frustration and disinterest. He woke up in the second half for a stretch after taking exception to some physical play. Wall verbally sparred with Tyler Hansbrough which earned both a technical foul. A couple possessions later, Wall attacked the paint only to have Jeff Foster bring his drive to a sudden stop as Hansbrough came over to volleyball-spike the shot attempt.
- The break surely energized some of the older legs for the Pacers. Like Foster, Mike Dunleavy came out with a little bounce in his game. He only had to play 22 minutes but helped get things going early in the game. He even showed up defensively, arriving in time to swat a John Wall driving shot attempt several rows into the stands. Seriously, this happened.
- The Pacers didn't exactly feed Roy tonight, but Hibbert showed up well back home in D.C. He picked his spots and finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocked shots.
- As usual, Tyler Hansbrough made his presence known, not only mixing it up with Wall but also scoring 17 points. It certainly wasn't the best all-around game for Hansbrough despite the points. One area of improvement which showed up tonight is Hansbrough's effort to finish stronger around the rim. Instead of the multi-fake, jump, hang, shoot from the hip attempts, Hans has been gathering himself to give his best jump, intent on dunking the ball or drawing a foul. This doesn't eliminate the blocked shots, but has been more effective for scoring points either on the put back or at the line.
- Paul Georgewas a little shaky but really got into the groove playing extended minutes in the second half. George finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal. He also had 2 assists and 3 turnovers, although those numbers should've been flipped. In the second half, Josh McRoberts cut through the lane, but flattened out his cut instead of continuing to the hoop, assuming he wasn't getting the ball. George snuck a beautiful bounce pass between two defenders that ended up going out of bounds because McRoberts quit going to the hoop.
- The Pacers had 51 rebounds and 45 trips to the line while only making 3 of 16 3-pointers. Those types of numbers are ingredients for a winning recipe these days under Frank Vogel, who moves to 8-3 after taking over as head coach. Oh, and 1-0 in the 28-game playoff run to end the season.
- Brandon Rush didn't play until late in the game which led to some speculation that he might be involved in a trade, possibly including Carl Landry of the Sacramento Kings. All rumor and speculation, as it appears the Kings went with their first option to deal with New Orleans.