The long nightmare is finally over. The Indiana Pacers are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. But before they could celebrate, they had to take care of business against a Washington Wizards team that was playing their best ball of the year. And the Pacers are no stranger to losing these types of games, having fallen to Sacramento in almost embarrassing fashion, just weeks earlier.
Fingers crossed, hoping against a complete collapse, the blue and gold tipped. What would go wrong? Well, Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough exploded out of the gate, so a slow start was out of the question as Indiana scored 43 first quarter points. What about the Herculean efforts from Jordan Crawford and Andray Blatche? Nope, Crawford could only keep the game less than 20 points while Indiana set a season high 75 first half points.
Danny Granger exploded in the third quarter, Paul George broke 20 on 5-6 three point shooting (sic), even James Posey had himself a night. No one guarded Josh McRoberts underneath, Roy Hibbert attacked the Washington front line early and often, Darren Collison put up a solid double double, and Granger had one of those vintage, effortless 25-point nights.
In other words, this one wasn’t even a game and very little could be said about it to make it sound like one. But what can be said is how focused the Pacers were tonight at sealing the deal. They couldn’t control what was happening in Charlotte between the Bobcats and the Magic; only their game against the Wizards, and they did it handily, exploding offensively for 136 monster points as everyone scurried to the locker room to see Orlando close out Charlotte in overtime.
As I mentioned, there’s not much that can be said in terms of this being competitive, but there’s a lot to say about the game as a whole! Enjoy it with a sense of relief; the Indiana Pacers have returned to the postseason, just like it was always meant to be.
After the jump, don’t forget to give Orlando a big hug when we see them next week:
- First, let’s get the negatives of this game out of the way. There weren’t many, but the ones that were there, they were trying. The team shot 60%, 13-24 deep, and frustrated an undisciplined and shorthanded Wizards team to the tune of three technical fouls, but there were three issues with the game as a whole: sloppiness, defense, and offensive rebounding. Defense I’m not terribly concerned about; this was an offensive game through and through, but Indiana gave up a lot of boards in second chance opportunities to Washington, enough that they were outrebounded by game’s end despite shooting far better than the Wizards.
- The real stickler for me would be the sloppiness and turnovers. Not every lazy pass resulted in a turnover, but 19 are going on record. The Wizards packed it up and went home pretty early (though no one told Jordan Crawford) and the ball movement was exceptional and lively for Indiana, but they weren’t playing with poise. While this game had playoff implications and showcased the Pacers at their most ferocious (seriously, these guys went full throttle for 48 minutes, serious kudos!), it was frustrating to watch Hibbert bobble nearly every ball he touched, passes sail, and Collison pick up six turnovers on his own. It’s all moot, but the Chicago Bulls could kill Indiana, even tonight, on 19 turnover opportunities.
- Paul George walks away player of the game because for the first time since stepping into the starting lineup, he played like a starter. George has lacked assertiveness within the lineup, but showed up with the kind of play tonight we’ve all been waiting for. He chalked up career highs in points (23), field goals (9), field goal attempts (15), and three pointers (5). Talk about efficiency, he also played a beauty of a defensive game, getting a pair of steals, a block, and six boards to go along with what has been his best game to date, hopefully opening him up to start inserting himself into the team’s play more often. Paul George playing well is nothing but a net positive for Indiana.
- Tyler Hansbrough had a huge first quarter to help solidify this win early and like George, has been looking a little assertiveness of his own to match up to those 30 point games he had against the Knicks, but he ended up with 15 points and 5 boards. What separated tonight from just about every big Hansbrough game to date is that he wasn’t forcing himself to lead the team. He actually looked fluid and aware of what was coming his way, didn’t force anything, and played one of his best games to date. Want proof? He tied his career high in assists tonight with 3. For Tyler, that’s basically like dropping 11...
- …which, just so we’re clear, Darren Collison did. DC had his third double double of the season, had another masterful shooting night (7-10), and kept John Wall on his heels the entire first half. Collison played a very sharp game tonight, and sans the six turnovers, there’s not much more you could ask for with him.
- Danny Granger had a 2008-09 performance, shooting a cool 7-11 (3-5 deep and 8-9 from the line) and scoring 25 points like it was nothing. Let’s give Danny a lot of credit tonight. All he did was quietly take charge of the game in the third quarter, score an automatic 25 points, go to the bench, and relish in the eventual win and subsequent playoff birth. This is the Granger the team needs and it fit him perfectly. The balance of offense the team has had in recent games has taken away from Granger’s points, but enough about leadership, cold blood, franchise player; just let him go out and if he’s shooting well, you can’t find anything to complain about.
- Roy Hibbert made it a mission to attack the Washington front line early. JaVale McGee played 9 minutes, and had no shot for all the foul trouble he was in. Then Hibbert went on Kevin Seraphin, did the same to him, forcing heavy minutes from Yi Jianlian, whose defensive rotations left much to be desired for Wizards fans. He too had himself a night, 6-8 shooting, 15 points; Hibbert looked in command, and had his jumper falling to boot.
- That wraps up the starters, so let’s recap: 34-54 shooting (63%), 94 points, 18.8 per player…it was offensive wizardry. While the early dominance of the starting unit put Washington to bed pretty quickly, they played as a unit the best they have to date. Everyone was on point, everyone knew their role, and everyone showed up. It’s impossible to expect this nightly, but here’s a preview of what these five players can become together, and it’d be nice if it happened more often than not.
- The bench played well too. In fact, no one had a rough night. Mike Dunleavy had 14 points to lead the second unit, playing his best game since his return; looking right back in sync with where he had left off. Josh McRoberts closed the game out big in the fourth quarter, killing every Wizards run to keep the score reflective of the game, A.J. Price had 6 assists on just four shots, and even James Posey and Dahntay Jones made nice work of their short garbage time.
It was definitely the kind of game Indiana needed to have. They not only beat the Wizards, they bludgeoned them. They not only came out with the win, they made sure the Wizards weren’t going to climb within 20 points. It was one of the few times this season the team has played with expectations against a lesser team and played like they belonged in the postseason they’ll now be apart of.
Indiana is in the playoffs.
That’s really nice.
We will have playoff basketball in Indiana again.
That's really nice.
As the team shifts gears into playoff mode, they’ll get to test their newly appointed stature against the Atlanta Hawks in the first of three final regular season games, each against postseason bound Eastern Conference teams.
The playoffs are here! Let’s build some momentum and see if this team can’t shock the world.