Following the rather disheartening losses to Minnesota and Toronto, extending the losing streak to six, the Pacers enter a tough stretch of games that began against the New York Knicks. Unsure of what the future would hold, it seemed just a little bleaker when the team found out they would have to forge into the great unknown without their leading scorer, Danny Granger while Chauncey Billups returned to New York.
Add on the news Indiana received earlier in the day that the Bobcats had finally called their bluff, defeated the Raptors, and taken control of the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, and it spelled "do or die" for the blue and gold’s dwindling playoff hopes, and can you believe it…they actually responded!
The second half of the Raptors game was levels above most of the recent play, but it still resulted in a lopsided loss partially due to the team’s inability to play any defense. But today was different. And it was notably different. What was it? Well…how about "defense?"
Looking to avoid another double digit first half deficit, Roy Hibbert and Paul George led the way to hit 5 of Indiana’s first 6 shots, opening up a fast strike 11-3 lead. Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire did all they could in the first quarter to keep it close, but help didn’t come as the Pacers got tremendous effort from everyone on the floor, opening up a surprising eight point first quarter lead.
Foul troubles began to mount in the second quarter for Indiana; George was sidelined with three, while many players, Dahntay Jones and Hibbert included, each had a pair. The Pacers rode good shooting and solid defense in weathering each storm the Knicks would bring, getting the lead into double digits. Where the Pacers had broken before, they didn’t today. A weak close to the first half was saved by keeping New York off the scoreboard.
In the third quarter, Tyler Hansbrough took over, scoring 13 of his career high 29 points in the twelve minutes. In that stretch, the Pacers opened up a 20-point lead, read that, a 20-point lead. Immediately following, the Knicks responded; they went on a 14-4 run, trimming the lead in half. This is where the Pacers generally fall apart. Not only were the Knicks running, but the Pacers would struggle to find any offense. But at 87-77, the game went into a stalemate. Not only could the Pacers not score any points, but neither could the Knicks. Credit that to the Pacers. For the first time in Frank Vogel’s tenure, Indiana played solid defense.
The defensive rotations, the help, the hustle, it was all there. The two stared each other down for five whole minutes in the fourth quarter, the Pacers winning it 2-0. From there, it was what had gotten both teams where they were: the Pacers relied on solid teamwork while the Knicks once again lost theirs, having to get everything from Anthony and Stoudemire. The result was a resounding and refreshing 106-93 victory, where the team looked completely in tune for the first time since November. It was a performance long overdue.
After the jump, hopefully the Pacers are "trending:"
- Before we caught up in the absence of Danny Granger, let’s look at it for what it was; a single game without their leading scorer. It’s nice to take down New York’s darling like old times, but it’s important to keep in the back of the head that Indiana has proven to fare well against these "big three" types. They played well against Miami, and it’s no surprise they’d be able to use their depth to bully the shallow Knicks. But the effort certainly felt refreshing without Granger, but do remember that we’ll likely find out Tuesday if the hyperbolic "bench/trade Granger!" is as valid as this effort lends itself to believe. What I would like to see, given the defensive intensity and quick start, perhaps bringing Granger off of the bench and starting Dahntay Jones. Starting Jones didn’t hurt the Nuggets, and establishing quick starts could be this team’s biggest asset in giving them a shot to stay in the 8th spot.
- But with all single games, caution does need to be lent. We’ve seen big efforts from Dahntay Jones before, only to see him fizzle out for a few games. In this sense, it may not be wise to put stock into Jones for the Pacers, but for the first time since he came to Indiana with the identity of a "defensive stopper," he actually played that way. Jones made Carmelo Anthony irrelevant in the second half, a huge bonus considering how poorly the Pacers did last time they faced him (without Jones). While Jones starting in place of Granger may not be a viable option, I think it should be a very loud talking point for Tuesday’s rematch against the Knicks. If it worked, go with it until it doesn’t work.
- As interesting as a potential dynamic shift in the team’s win is, it isn’t entirely fair to overshadow Tyler Hansbrough and his new career high 29 points. Hansbrough got his all day long, going 12-20 from the field, and generally forcing any Knicks body into a tough spot. There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said. After all, it was a typical Hansbrough game, but since deciding his teammates were a bunch of marshmallows, Hansbrough has averaged 24.0 PPG and 7.8 RPG, leading defenses to wonder…how do you stop him? It’d be nice if they never figured it out.
- Defensively was a strong suit for the Pacers, including the Indiana front line. Roy Hibbert and Josh McRoberts combined for all seven of Indiana’s blocks. Hibbert, who started off effective and finished with a quiet 12 and 8, sent Amar’e Stoudemire packing on three separate occasions. The big fella actually used his size against Stoudemire, playing him as well as he could. McRoberts blocked a pair of Toney Douglas layups, each time breaking a little more of Douglas’s spirit. Douglas shot just 1-12 from the field, especially bad for a Knicks team that shot just 36.6% on the night.
- Darren Collison also spearheaded the Silent, But Deadly campaign, using his speed to keep New York guessing. He played his best game in a long, long, long time, going 6-10 for 16 points, also adding in 8 assists, notable given the lack of teamwork the team had exhibited in recent games. It would’ve been a perfect game if not for his 4 turnovers, all just a little unnecessary. But for all of the grief we give Collison defensively, it’s only fair we give him credit for his defensive job tonight, where he forced Billups into 4-14 shooting and just 4 assists, not allowing Mr. Big Shot to get any shot, much less a big one.
- It really was a solid team effort today. Brandon Rush not only muscled up enough interest to launch six shots (hitting three for 8 points), but grabbed six rebounds. James Posey actually hit a pair of three pointers, Paul George made some big boy plays even though he was hampered with foul trouble all night, and A.J. Price got himself a few nice shots in honor of Connecticut’s win in MSG on Saturday.
- On the Knicks side, Carmelo Anthony finished with 25 points and Amar’e Stoudemire 28, but beyond that, former Pacer Shawne Williams scoring 13 points on a trio of triples, was the only player to get into double figures, continuing to play well and get his act together for the Knicks.
- One of the best exchanges of the night came when Hibbert, failing to get help, committed a bad foul on Shawne Williams. Heading to the bench, Dahntay Jones laid into him for the foul. Later in the game, Jones forced up a bad shot; Hibbert laid into Jones for passing up him open in the post. Jones admitted to his mistake. With all the talk of dissension amongst the ranks, it was great to not only see life in the form of digging into fellow teammates for bad plays, but the ability for players to then take those same digs when they’re the ones making mistakes.
Indiana finally gets off the road and back to Conseco Fieldhouse to face the Knicks to face them in the second half of this home-and-home. It’ll be a big chance for Indiana to not only build momentum, but go with what works. They’re back into the playoff race after being out of it for a few hours and now’s their chance to take control of it. It was good to see some fight, it was good to get a win, but it’s time to sustain it.