I said before this series began that in order to win a game, they would need either a huge lead or some luck. Today, they had a bit of both, as they held on to beat the Chicago Bulls 89-84, ensuring that the series will head back to Chicago.
Another gutsy effort by the Pacers, who built an 18 point lead during the third quarter and still had a double digit lead with just a couple of minutes to go. Once again, the Bulls turned on that extra gear that the Pacers don’t have, and came storming all the way back to trail by only 1 point (on a 3-point play by Joakim Noah) with under 20 seconds left in the game. At that moment, every Pacers fan in the building was thinking, ‘Oh no, not again!’
Fortunately for the Pacers, Granger hit 2 free throws on the ensuing possession to give them a 3-point lead, and on the next play, the Bulls almost threw it away before getting the ball to an almost wide open Carlos Boozer by the corner. ‘Oh no, not again’ rushed through my brain again as Boozer launched the shot, and fortunately again, the ball hit the side of the rim and Granger grabbed the rebound and was fouled with a second to go. He hit both free throws and sealed the game.
A fantastic effort by the Pacers but a disgraceful effort by their fans. Conseco Filedhouse was inexcusably covered in red and there were MVP chants for Rose and boos for the Pacers. I know the Pacers had the worse attendance in the NBA this season but this was still atrocious.
Anyway, back to more positive things. Danny Granger again showed glimpses of the player the Pacers need him to be. He hit his clutch free throws and led the team with 24 points and 10 rebounds, 4 assists (and a bunch of other good passes) and only 1 turnover. He played as though his life was on the line and it showed. With the Pacers falling apart again in the last few minutes of the game, he was the one that stood up and took charge and calmed everyone down. Well done Granger. He might never be a superstar (or maybe even an All-Star again), but you certainly can’t complain if he plays like this every night.
Hibbert disappeared a little down the stretch, but he hit a big basket to keep the Bulls at bay and he was very aggressive all night. He finished with 16 and 10 and 3 big blocks. Another night of growth for Hibbert and I hope he continues to realize his potential.
Speaking of growth, another excellent performance by rookie Paul George, who came out firing, scoring all 9 of his points in the first half and doing a superb job on Derrick Rose (who sprained his ankle at the end of the first and finished with 15 points and 10 assists on 6-22 shooting, including 1-9 from 3-point range, and ONLY got to the line 4 times). With his long arms and underrated agility, George has the chance to be a star at both ends of the floor. A big summer from him is imperative for the Pacers to take the next step forward.
Jeff Foster (who pathetically got 2 of his fouls from game 3 upgraded to flagrant 1s — I mean come on, if those fouls were on Pacers players I bet nothing would have happened) had 9 boards, including 7 on the offensive end to keep countless possessions alive for the Pacers.
AJ Price had 10 points in 15 minutes, and showed once again why he has the potential to be a big time player, at least mentally. The guy just isn’t scared with the ball in his hands, no matter what the score and no matter how much time left on the game clock or shot clock. If only he could develop more of an all-round game, he’d be an excellent backup for Collison for years to come.
Collison is still nursing that ankle injury, so he only had 6 points and 2 assists (on 2-11 shooting) tonight, but he played terrific defense (by his standards, anyway) and had a huge block on a breakaway Rose down the stretch that could be looked at as one of the key plays of the game.
With the victory, the Pacers avoided a sweep, but most importantly, it gives the team tremendous confidence for next season. No one is expecting them to win the next one, but if they can keep playing like they have all series, anything is possible. They lost the first 3 basically in the dying seconds, and now they’ve gotten 1 back. That’s 4 games in a row where they’ve played the team with the best record in the league down to the wire. More growth from their youngsters, a couple of nice pieces here and there, and the Pacers could have a very bright future ahead of them.
Best of luck for game 5. This series deserves to go for more than 5 games!