The Pacers bounced back in a big way by playing solid team basketball again to score a comfortable win in Boston over the Celtics. Whether or not the Celtics are quite the same caliber team they've been in past years remains to be seen, but part of that has to be credited to the Pacers not allowing the Celtics to dominate at a championship level.
Indiana's play in the third quarter really showcased the resiliency of the young team, though let it be known such quality basketball seemed incredibly unlikely when both teams stumbled out of the gate shooting. That serves as absolutely no surprise for the blue and gold, who sit at 27th in the NBA in FG% (ahead of three teams that combine for four wins), but were able to stay competitive as they've been all year by limiting their opponent's opportunities.
With under two minutes left in the first quarter, the Pacers had just 9 points, a frightening number to have until you saw Boston themselves had accumulated just 13. While neither side seemed to have much interest in scoring points, the Pacers second unit (featuring A.J. Price and Jeff Foster) began to open things up. The old fashioned Goon Squad went on an 11-1 run to put Indiana to the lead, one they wouldn't relinquish the rest of the night.
After Boston tied the game up at 25, Indiana closed the half an 8-0 run to give the game a dazzling 33-25 lead at the break. Even despite totaling just 58 points in the first 24 minutes, offense suddenly became relevant in the third quarter as the two teams combined for 60. The big news in the quarter wasn't so much that the Pacers scored 30, or even that they allowed 30, but that they didn't lose the quarter and did so with some key responses throughout the entirety of it.
Boston played like a team renewed to open the third quarter, and throughout the twelve minute period, made play after play that aimed to swing the momentum of the basketball game. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were drilling threes, Kevin Garnett was going up big for dunks, Rajon Rondo was skillfully penetrating the lane. Even despite this, Indiana had the answer. When Allen drilled a three, Paul George responded in kind while Roy Hibbert picked up a four point play. When Pierce cuts it to two, Darren Collison leads the way on a 6-0 Pacers run.
The response for Indiana was somewhat unexpected, though incredibly thrilling and relieving all the while. It's easy to fall back on these kinds of plays and say, "In year's past..." when trying to showcase the team's growth, but they're incredibly valid because just as Indiana fell apart on Wednesday to Heat runs, they would've done the same to this Celtics team before this season.
In the fourth quarter, the Pacers used a 10-3 run to open up a commanding 13-point lead, a run that was fueled by tremendous ball movement and court vision by Price, including 8 points from George Hill, who was hitting smooth three pointers off the pass. Indiana continued to respond to small Boston runs, and even kept their composure on the defensive end with ballhawking and active defense that helped open up opportunities for turnovers, as the Pacers came out on top after having a bunch early.
Danny Granger struggled shooting, but great defensive play (including three steals) and eye popping unselfishness (passing up an open jumper to find an open Collison for three) before sinking in the final dagger. All in all, the Pacers came back from their second tough loss of the year with one of their finest performances of the season. The anchor of the performance fell squarely on the second unit. Tyler Hansbrough had a solid night that included more than one pass out of a shot, George Hill played smart and good ball, Jeff Foster didn't miss a beat in his time missed, and A.J. Price ran the offense to perfection.
All in all, the win feels great, as does anyone win, even if at this point it may not be quite the marquee win it looked to be before the season began. While the Pacers improve to 5-2, the Celtics haven't exactly put together a shining resume early, falling to 0-2 against winning teams and 4-4 overall.
After the jump, more on another Pacers victory:
- Danny Granger finished as the team's leading scorer with 15 points despite shooting 3-14 from the field. This speaks plenty to the type of team Indiana has, as well as the type of game Granger himself had. As for the team, it really showcases the importance put into the team and the depth aspect. Six players reached double figures and the leader had just 15. That's not a bad way to win, knowing you can rely on so many different players nightly, especially as your best player continues to look for his shot.
As for Granger's game, his 7-7 night at the free throw line, including the steals, active defense (Pierce finished 3-17 on the night), and unselfish play really turned his dismal shooting into a net positive. Give Granger credit; even at his worst, he's still helping this team get into the W column.
- A.J. Price deserves ample credit for his play tonight off the bench. With Lance Stephenson dressed, but not playing due to the injury he suffered against Miami, Price came in and ran the offense as well as anyone's run it all year. Darren Collison has certainly run the offense well, but it was stagnant all around until Price came in with the second unit and ball movement was born. Price had just 2 points and 2 assists, but it was impossible to not see the impact he had on this game.
Afterwards, Frank Vogel had praise for Price, but seemed to suggest Stephenson was still the team's primary option at the backup spot. With some up and down play from Lance, the stability Price could bring (aware this was just one game) at the back up position should require a long hard look from the coaching staff in considering upgrading Price until there's more certainty about Lance's growth. The team moving George Hill off of the point guard position was another solid adjustment that really helped the second unit gel more cohesively.
- The cohesive play of the second unit would've still lacked that extra element without the return of Jeff Foster. Lou Amundson has made marginal impact at best even though he's a fun guy to watch. Jeff on the other hand, showed why he is such a key part of this team's success. Frustrating opposing players, grabbing rebounds, playing Jeff Foster basketball; it's all an irreplaceable trademark at this point. The revival of the Goon Squad with George Hill could really spell big things for a bit of a lethargic and struggling second unit; as Tyler Hansbrough also had a double digit night and above .500 shooting.
- David West had a quiet night with just two points, but crashed the boards for 10, four on the offensive glass. In fact, the Pacers dominated the glass and used that as a big reason they were able to hold the Celtic surges at just those. Roy Hibbert played well in addition despite his worst shooting night of the year, grabbing 12 boards of his own.
- Jermaine O'Neal had a big night early, blocking everything that came into the paint, taking multiple offensive fouls, and crashing the boards. It was all every Pacer fan could do but not long for the play of O'Neal, partially envious for what he could still provide the Pacers, mostly annoyed that he was playing well against Indiana. It was a bittersweet performance from #7, that is until he went out with an injury in the third quarter. You can't make these things up.
- Paul George had another good shooting night, as did George Hill. Both reached double figures on efficiency, Paul going 2-2 on his three point attempts. PG struggled, however, in keeping up with Ray Allen most of the night. Allen got free for four three pointers, but George did all he could to limit the damage on the other end.
The Pacers came together big for a pretty impressive win against a team that may be looking for their own identity, but is still a playoff team that can piece together a solid run once there. It was the impressive nature through defense in the fourth quarter and offense in the third quarter that gave Indiana the balance they needed to improve to 5-2. Indiana ends their longest road trip of the season at 2-2, and will head home to face the Charlotte Bobcats tomorrow night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. With so few home games early in the year, they can ill afford to let one slip, especially to teams that aren't expected to challenge for the postseason. The good news? Indiana was undefeated last season at home on the second night of back-to-backs. Go to work and keep the streak alive.