This was a game the Pacers would have lost in the last few years. No doubt about it. I’ve seen it happen enough times. And to be honest, I was terrified that they were going to squander a golden opportunity to get an easy win against a Bargnani-less and Bayless-less (double negative…so would that be just “Bay”?) Toronto Raptors squad at Air Canada Center. They almost did, lumbering out of the gate and falling behind by as much as 16 points, before slowly and gradually clawing back to grind out a hard-fought, foul-plagued 95-90 victory. And they wouldn’t have gotten it without the fortuitous four missed free throws from the Raptors in the last 67 seconds of the game (including a beautiful airball from Jamaal Magloire).
It was ugly, like many Pacers games have been this season, but it’s another win. The Pacers are now 8-3, but the road is about to get much tougher, with 6 of the next 8 games away from Indiana, and the two home games coming against the Celtics and the Magic. Have the Pacers finally turned a corner? We’ll have to wait and see.
- The Pacers’ offseason pick-ups are really starting to pay dividends. George Hill was the star of the game with 22 points and 5 steals off the bench (7-11 shooting, 2-4 from three-point range and 6-6 from the line), and David West (13 and 4) was the go-to guy down the stretch, hitting a pressure hook, drawing a foul (and hitting 1-2) and fouling the hapless Magloire to essentially ice the game. These two guys have become crucial parts of the team, and will become more indispensible as the season progresses.
- Coming off his “break out” game, Danny Granger had a shocker, shooting just 1-8 from the field before a brain-freeze which saw him tossed from the game for picking up his second technical in the second quarter. Granger picked up his first for arguing a no-call, and the second for standing over and “taunting” Ed Davis after a wonderful, picture-perfect, all-ball dunk block. Seriously, with the Pacers down, the ball still in play, and Davis on his backside out of bounds, Granger chose to stand over Ed Davis (that’s right, Ed Davis) instead of taking advantage of a perfect 5 on 4 fast break opportunity. This was an unprofessional, knucklehead move you might have expected from Lance Stephenson, not from the “leader” of the team. Granger apologized after the game, as he should have, and let’s hope it’s a wake up call for him because the Pacers really dodged a bullet in this game. On the bright side, he will be well-rested for the Boston showdown tomorrow.
- Roy Hibbert turned the ball over 6 times and fouled out (on a crucial three-point play) in a game he ought to have dominated with Bargnani out, but he still put up a respectable 15 points and 9 boards, including 6-10 from the field. Roy is getting there, slowly but surely. He just needs to keep it up and keep growing.
- Darren Collison and Paul George are still growing their games. They both do some spectacular things sometimes, but still negate them with silly decisions. The key is to for them to realize their strengths and play to their strengths rather than trying to do things they aren’t capable of.
- Tyler Hansbrough had one of his “Love Tyler” games (he can be “Love Tyler” or “Hate Tyler” on any given night) with 13 points, 6 rebounds. Hansbrough was 7-7 from the line, including two big ones after he was fouled upon grabbing David West’s missed free throw (referred to above). Hansbrough can be great and he can be horrible. Tonight he was great. He even had a miraculous 2 assists.
Not sure what to expect from this squad moving forward, but the next few games will be a fantastic measure of how far they have come. Tomorrow they are up against the Celtics (at home), a team they already defeated once in Boston. The Celts are struggling this season (4-6) but they are still dangerous and will be desperate for a win and payback. Even if the Pacers lose this one, I’d like to see them fight it out to the end, not crumble like they did against the Heat earlier in the season.
Then it’s off to the West coast for games against Sacramento (4-8), Golden State (3-7) and the Lakers (9-4). Forget about the Lakers game for now (especially considering how crazy Kobe Bryant has been playing lately), but will the Pacers be able to pull out at least one or both games against the other teams? I highly doubt the old Pacers could have, but with this new team, with David West and George Hill, I remain cautiously optimistic.