Coach Frank Vogel was pleased enough with the effort tonight that he came out and said it: "We're unbeatable when we share the ball." Certainly, there was enough proof in the Pacers' play in their 108-94 win over the New Jersey Nets to make it seem like it might just be true. Of course, by this point, it's hard to not take Vogel's words as pure fact. Not only does he have the players buying into his philosophy, but it's been carrying over to Pacers fans as well, where proclamations of invincibility feel completely credible.
After all, it was ball movement that helped Indiana get their fourth win in five games, halt their losing side at one game, and effectively cruise to victory despite getting outhustled and subsequently killed by the Nets on the offensive glass. The Pacers as a team had 26 assists on 41 field goals, with ten of the eleven players registering one. The 41 field goals are, as no surprise, a season high, as the Pacers broke out of their sub-40% shooting woes to rack up a solid 53% effort, which included 13 three pointers.
The Pacers led the whole way in Newark, which began on a 6-0 run to start the night. It's feels conflicting to say the Pacers actually played well. Without a doubt, they had their best (really first) offensive game of the year, and a solid defensive effort that, despite a few shortcomings, helped to cloud over the fact they were largely outplayed by the Nets. New Jersey, short not only Brook Lopez, but also Kris Humphries, were severely shorthanded, but had big hustle all night.
Indiana simply looked like the better team, because while New Jersey hung around, the feeling never really crept up that the game was in serious jeopardy for the Pacers. The Nets crashed the boards, getting 20 on the offensive glass, forced the Pacers into 15 turnovers, had a heyday in the defensive paint blocking what felt like everything going up, and outshot them at the free throw line by 8 points. But Indiana's ball movement, including lights out play by Paul George, really helped fuel this game to what was felt like an easy victory late in the fourth quarter.
Is that the state of mind in expectations? Knowing what the Nets were short, knowing what the Pacers had going once the game got underway...it just seemed like if Indiana ever found themselves in trouble, they'd have pulled the win out. In a good way, not in the squeak by in overtime to Cleveland sort of way. In fact, the team just felt different tonight. After the egg that was laid in Detroit, this felt like just the game they needed to have to ease worried minds; to keep alive, at least for now, the thought that this team really is turning the corner.
After the jump, more on a successful Frank Vogel homecoming:
- Paul George led the way with 21 points for the Pacers, but did so on just 10 field goal attempts, shooting a ridiculous 80% and 5-5 from three point range. The 21 is a season high, two short of his career high, but most importantly, it was great to see him bounce back in a big way after a pair of dud games. Having inconsistencies should be expected from the young George, but it's big to know he can break out of slumps without a lengthy stretch of bad play.
- David West was a big piece to the puzzle early on, showcasing his patented jump shot, putting up an effortless 15 points in just 23 minutes. In fact, minutes were limited across the board tonight; either from Vogel's feeling the second unit could handle business and close the game out or a wish to put a rested squad on the floor in Miami on Wednesday, but Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison barely got over 20 minutes themselves, both having solid games with big blocks and big steals to go with nice play for their teammates.
- Guys shooting numbers went up tonight, that is except for Danny Granger. Granger finished with 15 points and 6 boards on 3-7 shooting from downtown, but went just 1-7 inside the arc. Granger's play inside the paint this year has been impressive, but stout play inside by the Nets really limited Danny's effectiveness. This led to a lot of bad shots being put up by Granger. The 1-7 shooting certainly was not a result of misfortune.
- Rookie Marshon Brooks, a popular player with Pacers fans around the time of the draft, had a solid game for the Nets. When not beating Dahntay Jones (who himself had a nice offensive night with 11 points on 5-6 shooting), the rook was making big plays finishing with 21 points and 7 boards off of the bench. While he seems to be shot happy, he's certainly a big spark for the Nets, a team that needs the punch Brooks brings.
- The Pacers played well defensively, but they were too anxious. While they were good on first shots, they were bad at blocking out and anticipating the miss and securing the rebound. Their inability to keep the Nets off the glass led to 16 second chance points for New Jersey, a number that will be twice as high on the same number of rebounds if they don't do better against the Heat.
It felt good to win, and not have to win (as) ugly, but there is certainly room for improvement when it comes to ball control and offensive rebounds. Indiana's 4-1 record in the opening stretch isn't a surprise, but it's good to know the Pacers kept their part of the deal in the win-loss column before the schedule stiffens up. The first true measuring stick game for the blue and gold will come up against the previously unbeaten Miami Heat on Wednesday. The Heat will be in vengeance mode following a fourth quarter collapse which gave them their first loss at home against the Hawks tonight, making an already tough game potentially even tougher.