With the Indiana Pacers and their injury situation reaching the point where they'll take advantage of the hardship exception to sign Gal Mekel, seeing the on-the-court fight product through with as much resiliency as they've had has certainly given Pacers fans plenty to cheer about. While the outcome of tonight's game against the Washington Wizards was a familiar one, so two was the fight of Indiana to overcome a double digit second half deficit.
The Pacers were in good position when Solomon Hill put them ahead by seven points at 35-28 in the second quarter, but they found themselves on the wrong side of a 16-2 Washington run to flip the lead nearing the break. The Wizards would push that advantage to 12 points in the third quarter, appearing in position to cruise towards an easy victory. The Pacers thought otherwise, kicking off a 10-2 run to draw within four near the end of the third.
Garrett Temple, who had 16 points on the night, hit his fourth three pointer as Washington's first points of the fourth, with Kevin Seraphin building a seven point advantage at 73-66 nearing the halfway point of the third. Indiana once again fought back, tying the game on an 11-4 run, with Chris Copeland knocking in a big three with four minutes remaining.
Washington pushed the game back to two possessions, but Donald Sloan in a career effort pushed Indiana back one more time, scoring the team's final seven points, including the game tying floater that would force overtime. Once in the extra period, a pair of Roy Hibbert free throws gave Indiana a a brief 88-87 lead, which John Wall responded to with six quick points and a pair of steals.
Indiana would shrink the five point advantage to a single point with 15 seconds remaining, with Wall splitting a pair of free throws to give the Pacers an opportunity at the win. In a final possession designed for Chris Copeland, Sloan drove into the paint and dished it out to the open shooter behind the arc. The man behind the arc happened to be Hibbert, who despite putting his last second attempt on-line, came up with front iron as the Wizards escaped with a 96-94 victory.
Donald Sloan's final play was the right basketball play, but simply came up going to the wrong guy for the look. There's of course a reason why Hibbert is wide open at the three point arc, and in a night otherwise otherworldly for Sloan, he probably showed why he's been a third string point guard to this point. Sloan was otherwise fantastic, finally piecing together a quality game to go alongside his fearlessness towards shooting and scoring.
Sloan had a career best 31 points tonight on an 11-21 shooting night. Sloan was on point early with three first quarter threes, but came up in a big way late in regulation to help force overtime, doing it on good looks as well. The point guard position was one of strength for Indiana, and that does include Solomon Hill, who looked surprisingly capable as a one.
Hill once again upped his career high, scoring 14 points on 5-9 shooting with eight rebounds. Hill has really stepped up his game and has shown signs of versatility in the early goings of the season, an extremely positive sign after those games that didn't exactly count. Chris Copeland was the third of three double figure scorers for the Pacers, scoring 19.
Sloan's pass to Hibbert wasn't the only headscratching decision on the night as Copeland joined the fray with a number of bad decisions, bad shots, and bad lapses on his 8-21 shooting night. Copeland and Sloan combined for nine of Indiana's 19 turnovers, as the consistency of Indiana's turnovers continues to be surprising if nothing else. Points off turnovers (19-12) and fast break points (23-10), both favoring Washington, continue to be a huge issue for Indiana.
The Pacers are being forced to rely heavily on their rebounding skills to simply make ends meet, outrebounding Washington by 14, including 14 offensive boards, but still coming up short in field goal attempts. Maximizing attempts was a key in tonight's game as both teams slogged their way through the second night of a back-to-back, neither team reaching 40% shooting on the night.
For Indiana, C.J. Miles (2-13) and Roy Hibbert (0-7) were the biggest field goal percentage menaces, but both had completely different games. Miles continues to look well out of sync, not even looking for quality shots so much as looking for the ball to finally go through the net. Hibbert on the other hand was blanked offensively (coming up with his lone two points at the line in overtime), but had a big impact in other parts of the game with nine rebounds and five blocks.
Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi also continue to provide nothing short of quality off the bench, continuing to rebound at a high rate and creating extra possessions for a Pacers team in desperate need of them. There's no rest for the Pacers from tonight, as they'll travel north to Boston to face the 1-3 Celtics on Friday as they get to start their third straight back-to-back.