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Indiana Pacers 89, Milwaukee Bucks 88: Pacers Win Third Straight at Opportune Time, Magic Number at 4

Despite being down 14 in the third quarter, the Milwaukee Bucks had slowly erased the Indiana Pacers’ lead over the course of the fourth. Now, with under a minute to go and down three, Corey Maggette, who had come off the bench to score 13 points and generally created misery for the Pacers pulled up a jumper that missed. Brandon Rush, responsible for 12 key points as a reserve as well, grabbed the board and it looked as if the Indiana Pacers were going to hold on for a confident win as they inched closer to their first postseason berth since 2006.

Oh, I’m sorry…you didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?

The path to the final minute was up and down for both teams, Indiana, like in their win against Detroit, controlled the middle two quarters, but Milwaukee came out hungry in the first…and unfortunately the fourth as well. If there was a way to describe the game’s first quarter, it would be dirty. It made you want to go wash your hands, take a shower, anything to rid yourself of the stench that led to both teams committing 15 turnovers, shooting poorly, and generally creating woeful memories for the local fans.

The Pacers were responsible for nine of those turnovers. It seemed they’d never learned ball security. To be sure, turnovers have been an issue for the better part of this season, but this was just absurd. The Pacers couldn’t hold on to the ball, and Milwaukee was working to capitalize on it. Andrew Bogut, a game time decision for being under the weather, went straight at Roy Hibbert early and often on the way to 8 first quarter points with six complimentary points from Brandon Jennings. The result was Milwaukee pushing an 8-point first quarter lead; slightly concerning considering Indiana’s recent losses have come from being on the wrong end of the scoreboard after the first quarter.

Things didn’t seem to improve much in the second as Michael Redd (yeah, he’s back now) continued to cause grief for local fans taking four quick points in the second en route to an eleven point lead. Things just weren’t going Indiana’s way, but immediately after, the defense stepped up and made some stops and on the other end Brandon Rush guided Indiana back into the game with eight straight points, cutting the lead to three. From there, it was more of the second unit leading the way to close the gap and create some distance as Darren Collison put the stamp on the half, sending Indiana up seven.

Much as the case against Detroit, the Pacers closed strong and came out of the gate in the second half ablaze. Indiana dropped the first six points of the half and maintained a workable lead despite the best efforts from Bogut and Maggette. The blue and gold would lead by as many at 14, but went into the final period up nine, looking to deliver the knockout blow. The Bucks, however, knowing the next 12 minutes would decide the fate of their season, began hitting, cutting the lead to five on a 9-4 run. The team that had shot just 11-41 over the second and third quarters was finding baskets left and right.

Sensing the comeback, Jennings began to take over, scoring 9 of his 20, pulling the Bucks to as close as one. But credit to the Pacers, who were able to match each push with timely baskets, never gave up the lead down the stretch, even fouling Bogut out along the way. Under two minutes, Milwaukee got each break they needed to cut the lead to one before a clutch basket got Indiana a three point lead.

That brings us full circle back to the final minute of the game. After Maggette missed, Rush got the rebound and looked to all but secure the victory, but instead of getting it to Collison, he opted to get the ball up court quickly, sending it out of bounds, back to Milwaukee. John Salmons would cut the lead to one and Collison would miss his runner on the other end.

Flashes of Bogut’s tip ran through Pacers’ fans heads, and even though Bogut wasn’t in the game, that didn’t stop the possibility of it happening again. But with two seconds to go and down one, Milwaukee made the inbounds to Drew Gooden, who threw up a prayer three, clanking off the backboard and Indiana escaped with the victory, 89-88. Ah, refreshing.

After the jump, the playoff aroma gets a little big stronger:

Once again, the Pacers showed up big for at least half of the game. The second and third quarters were big strong points for the team as they outpaced the deer 55-38 in the two quarters. Unfortunately, the first and fourth quarters remained big problems, but Indiana held strong again and escaped with a much needed victory. The win marks just the third time the Pacers have pieced together a three game winning streak.

Turnovers seemed to be a huge problem for Indiana after the first quarter, where they committed nine. But they would only give up the ball four more times the rest of the night, even though it was Rush’s turnover that nearly cost them the victory. The Pacers turned a poor shooting first quarter into a 46% night, even though it certainly didn’t seem Milwaukee’s defense was going to let it get that high.

  • Brandon Rush nearly went from G.O.A.T. to scapegoat in one play, but that doesn’t need to discredit his solid game. Despite some defensive troubles where he didn’t seem to get the scouting report on Keyon Dooling’s three point abilities, Rush’s push in the second quarter saved the game for Indiana. Rush’s assertiveness appears to once again come around, and I think by this point, we know what kind of player Brandon is, but here’s to hoping he can keep this pace up if Indiana can close out their postseason bid.
  • Roy Hibbert took some early abuse from Andrew Bogut, but rebounded well (also literally) and finished the night with a 15-11 double double. The big fella shot above 50% again, and got some really nice looks to fall. He was making a living with the long range jumper, reading the pick and roll much better in tonight’s game than he had earlier in the season. While he’s not blowing teams away like he was early in the season, he’s showing a lot of consistent improvement recently over his demons from this very season. Better clock awareness, better shot selection, smarter pick and roll player, he’s making it work.
  • Paul George has started showing more assertiveness himself in the starting lineup as he looked to make plays on the offensive end. A few bad breaks defined his quiet six point night, but he did send home a pair of dunks, including one off of his own three point miss.
  • Tyler Hansbrough hasn’t been quite the unstoppable monster he was a couple of weeks back, but he showed more flashes of his old game tonight, working on being active and finding a solid footing on his range jumper, which has been more AWOL lately than need be.
  • Frank Vogel mentioned after the Detroit game that the Pacers’ greatest strength was in their depth. Tonight was absolutely no exception. It was the second unit that saved the game for the blue and gold, but the starters helped maintain and push the lead in the third quarter. Individual performances have been getting overshadowed lately, and that’s not bad to see. The team won with Danny Granger scoring 17 points, with Darren Collison not exploding for 20. Guys are stepping up nightly, and it’s hard to really guess who it will be, but as long as players like Granger, Collison, and Hibbert can find consistency, this team will be in a lot of games if they can continue getting solid play from their backups.

Speaking of Vogel, tonight’s win puts the Pacers at 18-15 since he took over, as opposed to the 17-27 record he walked into. It’s been an up and down swing even with Vogel, but the team has been winning at a far more consistent rate, and that’s been the difference in this late season push towards the postseason. To help matters in not only officially eliminating Detroit (good riddance) and putting Milwaukee in a distant four game hole (five with tiebreakers), the Bobcats fell tonight putting them another game behind, bringing Indiana’s magic number to just 4, but more importantly, they lead in the win column by three games.

Indiana travels to New Orleans for a game on Sunday and the Hornets, now without David West, are right in the middle of fighting for their own playoff lives, currently sitting in seventh, trying to maximum their playoff positioning. The last time these two teams met, Mike Dunleavy pushed a tip-in at the buzzer to seal a big victory for the blue and gold.