While Paul George has stepped up to take over the lead role for the Indiana Pacers he still needs some help and lately the bench has pitched in to help secure wins. With injuries, sickness and sporadic poor play, Frank Vogel has had to turn to his bench to fill the gaps over the past few weeks.
Against the Knicks, back spasms forced Roy Hibbert to the locker room at the end of the first quarter. Hibbert would return but then have to leave for good after blocking a shot by Tyler Chandler early in the third quarter.
Vogel didn't hesitate to insert Jeff Pendergraph into the rotation in the second quarter while then relying on backup center Ian Mahinmi down the stretch. Reggie Miller lauded the pair for bringing great energy off the bench for Vogel as their effort gave the Pacers a big lift in the win.
Hibbert was fine heading into the game, so Pendergraph said he had no idea he would play before the opening tip. But once he hit the floor, Pendy looked to make plays like he expected to play and wasn't shy, taking a pass in the post on his second possession and quickly turning to knock down a smooth jump hook..
"I just try to jump into the flow of the offense, take what they give you," Pendergraph said. "So that's what I was trying to do and then try not to get my shot block."
Pendergraph broke into a smile as he delivered that last line, but the way he attacked the game without any prior warning that he would play is a great testament to the way this team prepares and the culture Frank Vogel has developed among his players.
Pendergraph was confident that he knew what he was doing and never hesitated. Vogel may have preferred Pendy skip a couple of the perimeter shots he took but his six points in nine minutes were a net positive.
As for Mahinmi, he essentially put the game away for the Pacers making big shot after big shot down the stretch to keep the Knicks chasing from behind. Mahinmi always seems ready to make a play on offense, but he appeared even more aggressive on Thursday night. Maybe he was comfortable going against Tyler Chandler, his former teammate on the championship Dallas Mavericks team in 2011.
"I always try to be aggressive," Mahinmi said after the game. "Whenever I come in the game, I try be aggressive and try to make good decisions whether I take the open jumper or drive the ball or pass it. I want to make the right play."
While he was strong around the rim, Mahinmi had his mid-range jumper going which help break the game open in the fourth quarter. The biggest shot came after a scramble situation and then an offensive rebound by Mahinmi to extend an already long possession. George Hill drew the defense in the lane and then found Mahinmi open in his sweet spot just outside the left elbow.
As the shot splashed through the net, the Fieldhouse crowd erupted as the Pacers seized control of the game for good. Mahinmi enjoyed the moment and the opportunity to make the Fieldhouse roar.
"I felt good" Mahinmi said. "Honestly my teammate found me at the right time and I was able to knock it down and I thought it was good for our momentum."
Now the Pacers will try to carry that momentum into their game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night and a chance to win their 10th straight home game.