For the Indiana Pacers, grabbing a win against the Wizards at home was paramount. With a tough Texas swing in the team's weekend plans, they could ill afford to drop back-to-back games against cellar dwelling Eastern Conference opponents, not with playoff positioning ramping up as the season's final month is under way. The Wizards gave Indiana everything they could handle for 48 grueling, gut wrenching minutes to grind out a win that was met with a great sense of relief. Indiana had won, and in the end, that's what mattered tonight.
Indiana actually seemed poised early to jump over Washington, using an 11-2 run contributed by Danny Granger and George Hill to set the pace in the first quarter, but a common trend was the resiliency of the young Wizards, who had no intentions of backing down to Indiana. The Pacers lived behind the arc in the first quarter, but Washington's ability to own the offensive glass kept them alive and kept the Pacers checking over their shoulder. While the starters, sans a foul hampered Paul George, led the charge early, the second unit was unable to build anything.
It's not entirely fair to pin the team's early struggles to pull away on the second unit; Washington made their fair share of baskets to keep the game within striking distance, and really thrived on Pacers misses or miscues when the game was at a tilting point. In the third quarter, the usually reliable Pacers didn't seem to pick up any kind of motivation in the locker room, allowing Washington to rattle out a 12-1 run that put the Wizards up seven. Indiana finally hit their first field goal over five minutes into the quarter, but Washington was still able to respond and push the lead to 8.
Yet for as resilient and gutsy as the Wizards were tonight, the Pacers had their fair share of grit, clawing back into the game, taking a 9-0 run of their own to put them back up five with the ball. Unfortunately, the theme for the fourth quarter was everything Washington did to prevent Indiana from closing the game out. With the ball, Paul George would miss a three and Cartier Martin responded, taking a potentially 8 point game down to just 2.
Time and time again, the Pacers squandered their ability to close out Washington, and time and time again, Washington kept their night alive by hitting the necessary baskets or making the key stop. The one bright side in a frustrating fourth for the Pacers was that despite not being able to actually close the game, they were able to make the plays they needed to at least stay ahead. That came up big as the clock finally ran down, Indiana forcing a backcourt violation and ultimately hitting their free throws to cap a stressful 93-89 victory.
Indiana seemed to lack a lot of energy again tonight, but exerted just enough to make it by. Despite that, they had a lot of positives when it came to moving the ball, assisting on 19 of their 31 shots. Assists have been an issue for the Pacers this year, and there were only a couple of stretches where the ball seemed to freeze. Guys did a nice job finding the open man to get a conversion, which came up big with the game coming down to the wire the way it did. It was that ball movement that helped as the Pacers won their 7th game of the year while shooting under 40%.
The Pacers are also in the bottom half of the league when it comes to allowing offensive rebounds, giving up 15 more tonight. Roy Hibbert's rebounding inefficiencies tonight really gave Indiana a lot of problems when it came to coming down with the basketball. At the same time, Washington simply had the extra step in them to come up with the 50/50 balls. The loose ball really played a big role in tonight's game. Any ball the Pacers may not have come up with could've easily turned the game from a W to an L.
After the jump, some individual highlights:
- Darren Collison played a solid game when he didn't look for his shot. He filled up the stat sheet with 7 assists and 5 boards while John Wall was limited to just 13 points and 2 assists himself. George Hill turned his bad offensive night into a productive one, scoring 14 on an efficient 4-7 shooting. No resolution was found in the starting PG debate, more or less giving credence to Collison in my opinion.
- Roy Hibbert finished the night with a paltry 9 and 3, but had a number of big plays late to help seal the game for the Pacers, scoring 8 points in the final 5 minutes of the game. Of course, Hibbert needs to rebound better, but at the same time, the Wizards were quite effective in limiting the big fella's effectiveness on the offensive side of the ball as well as glass.
- Danny Granger was far more keyed in tonight after chalking up a DNP - Was Dressed and On the Floor Though last night, really leading the charge with some solid offensive stretches, including scoring Indiana's final 9 points in the first quarter. Danny finished the game with a game high 25 on 8-15 shooting, being one of two Pacers above 50% shooting on the night.
- Elsewhere, Paul George had the best of intentions with everything he did tonight, but all of his luck came up snake eyes when he couldn't seem to follow up a great defensive play with an equally important offensive play. David West plowed over the Wizards for 14 & 8, and Lou Amundson gets an honorable mention for salvaging some important plays with hustle, helping to give Indiana some much need loose ball opportunities.
Indiana looked a step slow against a fresh and athletic Wizards team that could be an Atlanta-esque nightmare matchup if they can get their current youth to gel into a serviceable basketball squad, but it's far better to win ugly than it is to look good and still lose. For the step Indiana didn't have tonight, they'll have a chance to rest up before continuing on, traveling to San Antonio on Saturday for a game with the Spurs.