It was a key test for the Pacers in their final road game of the regular season, against a struggling Philadelphia 76ers team fighting for their postseason livelihood. Actually, that's a pretty familiar story line regarding recent games, at least the one involving Milwaukee last Saturday, but it's a story line that the Pacers have come out big in recently, able to extend their winning streak to a season high 6 games while moving to 10-1 in the month of April, doing so in familiar grind-it-out fashion.
Both teams stumbled out of the gate shooting, combining for 2-12 shooting with the Pacers suffering from turnover syndrome, the teams deadlocked at 2-2 five minutes into the contest. Danny Granger broke the tie as the two teams began trading runs and baskets into the second quarter before George Hill pushed the lead to six with the half time lead sitting at five. The starters continued to lead the way for the Pacers, who got an improved, but still shorthanded scoring punch from the bench in the first half. The starters had timely defense to lead the way, with Paul George racking up four steals in the half.
Roy Hibbert pushed the lead to seven in the third quarter before Philadelphia rattled off an 11-0 run to give them the lead, one they'd maintain through the third quarter as the second unit, led by Tyler Hansbrough, stepped up defensively to allow the Pacers to stay within striking distance before a five point swing by Dahntay Jones and Leandro Barbosa sent the game into the fourth knotted up at 70.
Hansbrough scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter, pitching a classic from the hustle standpoint, and getting the Pacers back in the lead before the starting unit, led by the game changing Danny Granger, who drilled a pair of spot on three pointers to push the Indiana lead to 8. The Sixers held close behind Andre Iguodala, but two Paul George threes pushed the lead to 9 with 90 seconds left. Iguodala and Louis Williams continued to make plays, but Indiana finally found a way to close the game out at the line, grabbing their 40th win of the season, their 10th of the month, and their sixth straight.
The bench played a key role tonight in their defensive effort in the second half to help keep the score within reach and to help maintain the lead in the fourth. It was a game led and maintained by the starters, a common trend with George Hill in the starting lineup and with Darren Collison continuing to be sidelined, but the bench was key tonight in a really positive way. With Danny Granger coming up big in the fourth quarter again, it's becoming almost excruciating to have to wait another week for the postseason to even get set to begin. It's a nice position to be in, no?
More after the jump:
- George Hill has really shown a lot of growth this season in his ability to run the Pacers offense, and it's a fairly crisp machine with him in the starting unit. Hill didn't shoot the ball particularly well, but hit shots when they needed to be hit, while totaling seven assists for his efforts. Of course, one concern might be that Hill seems to look for his own shot too often as the team's starting PG. It's not a bad thing given his ability to score, but it still seems to be a little shaky when it involves the starting lineup.
- Paul George has seen his shots completely disappear with the addition of Hill to the lineup, creating what seems like an unnecessary sacrifice just to have the "five best players" on the floor to start a game. That's not to take away from the focused and keyed in game George had, still scoring 9 on three triples, grabbing 6 boards, 4 steals, and 5 assists. George was plenty involved on offense, so it's not fair to say he's being left out of the offensive execution, but it is fair to say he's not being set up to score. I'm not a fan of putting first person viewpoints into recap posts, but I can't avoid saying that while I am a big fan of Hill, I'm not much a fan of him in the starting lineup, and I have seen little to suggest my mind can be changed on the matter, despite the high level of play Hill has brought. Not starting does not mean less minutes or not finishing games, it simply means I think Hill's skill set benefits an inefficient second unit more than it benefits a potent starting unit.
- On a brighter note, Danny Granger. Granger had another scorching night from beyond the arc, going 6-8 from distance, including a demoralizing pair in the fourth quarter that put the Sixers down 8 and more importantly, kept their comebacks at bay. Roy Hibbert pitched in with another double double and David West added in 13, making some key hustle plays throughout the game to aid the blue and gold.
- As mentioned, the Pacers bench gave a solid game tonight. Their defensive efforts were important and aided Indiana's play in the second half. Fans often get too low on Tyler Hansbrough, and while generally an inefficient player, he still brings plenty to a game that makes him a valuable commodity to a team hoping to make a postseason run. Leandro Barbosa may also be inefficient in shooting the ball, but he's been a necessary addition to the bench, especially given the injury to Collison. Dahntay Jones added some punch, making plays when given the opportunity and coming up on the right side of those plays.
All in all, it was another quality win for the Pacers who continue to rack up the wins. The New York Knicks held off Boston in the second half to grab a key win for them. The win keeps a faint chance for New York to jump up in seeding alive as the Boston loss all but clinches their spot as the fourth seed.
The Pacers are off tomorrow night, giving the chance to watch the Bulls take on Charlotte while Miami hosts Toronto as the Heat can still keep hopes for the top seed alive. Atlanta hosting a Detroit team that led Cleveland by 50 points after three quarters tonight and Orlando takes on Boston, creating a full night of playoff seeding action.
Indiana returns to action Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks, a team being given opportunity after opportunity to pull in a playoff spot, and could be an interesting matchup given how heated the game became Saturday with Brandon Jennings subsequently calling Granger out on Twitter. Must see TV as the playoffs draw nearer!