A night of runs accumulated into a close game that shouldn't have been close, a complacent Pacers team looking for a blowout win, and even more frustrating execution in an end of game situation that nearly cost the team a win they had all but salted away with under a minute to go. Tonight's game was oddly reminiscent of some recent games and in general in games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that has given the Pacers nothing but scares and fits in the three meetings thus far.
Not only was tonight a game of runs, but they came almost clockwork all night. Similar to how the Raptors hung around on Monday, the Cavs were every bit the frustrating team playing spoiler Toronto was. The Pacers would push the game to 7, to 8, to 9, even 10, but Antawn Jamison would return the favor. They'd build a lead again, and Lester Hudson was right there. The Cavaliers made plays, but let's give some credit to the content Pacers defense which nearly mirrored their effort against Toronto in an up and down fashion that was turned on and dominate when they needed to be, but not too competitive when they had built a cushion.
The point guard position, with Darren Collison missing his second straight game, proved to be a big part of the team's up and down play, with A.J. Price following up his solid performance Monday with a real stinker tonight. Much like what felt like the case with T.J. Ford last year, the benching seems to really get through to Price, but when he's given a little slack, he suddenly tries to do too much. He wasn't entirely in control against Toronto, but the erratic play wasn't costly in the same way it was tonight. It wasn't a pretty night for him, or most of the bench in their light workload, despite solid efforts from Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough doing some lifting for the second unit.
The starters played a key role, especially to start the third. With the Cavs hanging around, able to tie the game at halftime, Indiana stormed out with an 11-2 run, the Pacers missed some opportunities to blow the game wide open with missed shots and way too many turnovers, allowing Cleveland to thrive and survive. Barbosa and Hansbrough led the way as Dahntay Jones finally pushed the game to 10 in the beginning of the fourth quarter, a run the Cavs responded to in a truly dominate fashion, Lester Hudson leading the way for an 18-1 run that not only put the Cavs up, but put them up by 7 points.
With the game on the ropes and Indiana playing way out of control, they found enough composure to clamp down on defense and get the game back in control with an 11-1 to put Indiana up 5 with 30 seconds to go, essentially icing it away. But with the game coming down to free throws, George Hill blanked on both attempts, Tristan Thompson responded with a three point play (on a bad Paul George foul), and a Redemption Time Hill missed the front end of his next free throws, allowing Hudson to knot the game up with 1.2 seconds to go, sending the Pacers back to OT.
Finally involving Danny Granger, he piled in five and Hill finally got some redemption going as the Pacers came to in OT to finally key in and put the Cavs to rest. Certainly, it wasn't pretty, it wasn't easy, and it should never have happened, but youth, general complacency, being in the home stretch of the season despite all they still have to play for...which seems like the best excuse? Indiana really does seem unfocused far too often on the defensive end, but with the stretch run part and the level of competition, both kind of seem understandable. One can only hope there's a level of focus once the postseason begins.
After the jump, more on a win's a win kind of win.
- Danny Granger had another 20 point night, totaling 23 on 8-18 shooting. The issue that has come to light is the team's inability to find Granger at the end of games. George Hill took all four free throws down the stretch, very nearly turning the recent "Bench Darren Collison forever" belief on its head, but it was also Roy Hibbert touching the ball at the end of regulation, though it was a smart move on Paul George's part to find Roy where he did. Good things continue to happen when Danny gets the ball, and the way he closed out in OT is more or less proof of that. The team will need to do better at getting Danny involved when the stakes raise a bit more than they're at right now.
- Even though the Pacers sloppy play led to them losing the turnover battle, they still forced 18 on the Cavs, with a pair of steals coming from David West, who essentially daggered the game on the defensive end before Hill went on to his 1-4 night.
- Okay, so George Hill will (deservedly) get the brunt of the blame for this game going to overtime, but it's only fair given the frustration with Darren Collison for the exact same thing against Houston. The moral of the story isn't so much to keep the ball out of either players' hands, but that even solid free throw shooters might find the kind of sigh of disbelief that Hill exhibited tonight. To be fair, like Collison, Hill was able to find redemption with a big three pointer to close the game in OT, so it all comes out in the wash, maybe?
- Roy Hibbert filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. After the game, Roy declared himself the best passing big man in the league, a self proclaimed honor that isn't entirely unfounded given the knack he's shown in his career, but on a night where he also got caught with 5 turnovers with some on bad passes, well, there's room for improvement on that proclamation.
Scoreboard watching sees the 76ers topping Toronto, Boston edging Atlanta in overtime, and the Knicks dropping the Bucks in a close one. The effect? The Pacers stay out ahead in the third spot, now two games clear of Boston, Atlanta, and Orlando who all sit at 34-24. The Sixers also draw within three games of the six spot, keeping some hope alive for them to claw back into it as eight games remain for all parties and the Knicks sit just one game behind Philly and two clear of Milwaukee following the win.
Lastly, with the win and Bucks loss, the magic number for the Pacers to clinch a playoff spot is now just 1, meaning a win against this same Cleveland Cavaliers team on Friday will put Indiana into the postseason for the second straight season regardless of Milwaukee's outcome Friday. The Pacers will have to bring a better effort Friday against a pesky Cavs team that has given Indiana all they can handle this season.