After a hellacious month of injuries, the Indiana Pacers have finally begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel with David West and C.J. Watson both making their season debuts against the Orlando Magic. The return of West was felt immediately, with him scoring four points and grabbing three rebounds in the first two minutes of game action before he picked up a quick second foul that stuck him on the bench for the remainder of the quarter.
The Pacers didn't struggle without West in the first quarter with a dominating display of extra effort put Indiana in control of the boards, which made up for their lackluster shooting effort. The Pacers led most of the way in the first quarter, eventually pushing their lead into double figures twice in the second quarter. Each time, the Magic stormed back, closing a 10 point gap on a 10-2 run and then an 11 point hole on a 11-2 run.
Each time, the Pacers kept Orlando at bay, eventually building their lead back to double figures late in the third quarter, eventually pushing the lead to 17. In the fourth quarter, the Magic managed to climb within single digits, but had no match for Indiana's rebounding, which gave the Pacers an extra 24 attempts, making up for a woeful shooting night from behind the arc.
Indiana would hold the Magic to just 83 points on the night, winning 98-83 in controlling fashion, rarely letting the Magic get much more than a run when the score began to tighten up. The Pacers worked their shooting percentage up to 43.6% on the night, undoubtedly helped by 17 offensive rebounds and a dominating 53-32 rebounding advantage. Indiana held the Magic to just two offensive boards themselves.
The second chance opportunities created a lopsided advantage for Indiana in the paint, with them winning 48-28. The Pacers also had sharp ball movement thoughout the night, assisting on 25 of their 41 field goals and controlling the ball, turning it over just 11 times (while forcing 18 Magic turnovers). The Pacers won a rare points off turnovers battle at 20-9, even landing nine fast break points (though giving up 11). Nevermind Indiana's surprisingly efficient 12-14 from the free throw line, a trend that can hopefully realize itself over time.
All in all, it was a tremendous team effort, not only in the return of West and Watson, but in Indiana getting valuable contributions from players like Donald Sloan and C.J. Miles, who each offered big positives despite poor shooting nights. But tonight's action was about the return of David West and C.J. Watson, and the two showed very little signs of rust in the first bit of action in over a month.
West not only helped Indiana off on the right foot, but was an offensive key for the Pacers, scoring 18 points on 8-17 shooting, hitting a three pointer along the way. West had six boards (two offensive), and got good and easy looks throughout the game. The only noticeable absence in West's game was his normally reliably jump shot going awry all night, something that will surely sort itself out as West works back into game form.
With West returning, one of the predicaments the coaching staff will find itself in is how to not only get West minutes, but work in both Luis Scola and Lavoy Allen, who played tonight as an audition for not losing their spot in the rotation. At least if that's how they played, they came through in a big way, each playing at a high level. Scola was just 2-8 from the floor, but came up throughout the night on the glass (eight boards) and defensively (three steals).
Allen was also a force on the glass, coming up with a game high six offensive boards for 14 on the night, coupling with a 10 point double double effort. However Vogel and the staff opts to spread the minutes for West, Scola, and Allen, it's clear all three are more than capable at garnering lengthy minutes. This has been known for West and Scola, but Allen's play has been particularly active, especially with his offensive game.
While West struggled with his jumper, Watson on the other hand went a perfect 4-4 from the floor for nine points, also hitting a three along the way. Watson had a bench high four assists in 18 minutes, and worked very well within the offense. Indiana's wing and guard rotation didn't fair particularly well from the floor, with Chris Copeland going 2-5 for five points and Solomon Hill making some plays, but going point for shot with 11 points on 4-11 shooting, but they were helped in a big way by Rodney Stuckey, who had a season high 24 points on 9-15 shooting.
Indiana moves to 7-9 on the season, which moves them back into the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Their chance to enjoy tonight's win will be short lived, however, as they head on the road for their next four, beginning with the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night. The Cavs have been up and down at 7-7 on the season, and it will prove a big test for the Indiana defense; Cleveland is 7-1 when they reach triple figures, but 0-6 when held under 100.