Going into the game you knew there wouldn't be any style points for the winner. When the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies play with the top two defenses in the NBA, nothing is easy nor pretty. Winning is about survival and the Pacers certainly survived to take a strong win with them to Portland.
The Pacers looked like they were ready to put away the win early in the third quarter when they scored the first five points to push the lead to nine. But then the turnover gremlins kicked in again and as the Pacers gave up the ball seven times over the remainder of the quarter, while also surrendering the lead. And this was before the bench would make their second-half appearance.
Ah yes, the much maligned bench that has actually been playing better of late and starting to show signs that they can be a positive factor down the stretch of the season. Notice I said showing signs, which is different than having arrived in full, but an improvement nonetheless.
Well, that bench I speak of fueled a game-altering close to the third quarter that saw the Pacers re-capture the lead while finishing the quarter on a 10-2 run. Normally the Pacers are on the other end of that formula, but not on Monday in Memphis.
After Orlando Johnson (who, by the way, was playing the minutes normally doled out to Gerald Green) coughed up the final turnover of the quarter, Wayne Ellington flushed the break-away freebie to put Memphis back up by six. It certainly appeared it was going to be one of those games for the Pacers with just 2:30 left in the third quarter.
But then the Pacers went to work.
- Ian Mahinmi sealed off his man and took a nice feed from Paul George for an easy dunk. PG, for the record, had a fabulous all-around game while playing 40 minutes in Rudy Gay's head. (MEM 61-57)
- Ellington countered at the other end with a second-chance bucket for Memphis. This guy and Tony Allen were outstanding for Memphis, making plays big and small to keep this game tight to the buzzer. (MEM 63-57)
- Memphis left Mahinmi open from 18-feet where the big fella is never shy and he drained the mid-range shot. (MEM 63-59)
- Jerryd Bayless followed with a failed lob attempt that crashed off the backboard and sent the Pacers in transition.
- In the scramble situation, D.J. Augustin drained a corner three-pointer. Hello! (MEM 63-62)
- At the other end, the Pacers finished off a solid defensive possession, forcing Bayless to take a contested perimeter shot as the shot clock was about to run out. The shot bounced and PG hauled in on of his 10 rebounds. (MEM 63-62)
- With the clock winding down and the Pacers with a chance to take the lead, George used up the bulk of the shot clock before taking the ball in the lane and kicking it out to OJ for another three-pointer. Boom! Pacers back in the lead. (IND 65-63)
- With 10 seconds left in the quarter, Memphis was unable to get a shot as Bayless was hounded into losing the ball as the buzzer sounded. Pacers end third quarter up 65-63.
Again, there were plenty of key plays through the game but this stretch was huge, not only putting the Pacers back in the lead but also allowing them to rebound from letting a lead slip away, reminding 1-12 on the roster that they weren't going down that way on the road again.
Tyler Hansbrough also brought a nice effort off the bench, resembling Jeff Foster with the way he irritated and executed with nine points and eight rebounds in just 12 minutes.
So while the usual suspects in the starting lineup did most of the heavy lifting for the Pacers with big minutes and game-winning plays down the stretch, the bench did their part to put the Pacers in position to win. On the road, that's the only way the Pacers can win big games -- with a full team effort.