This was a gimme first round, right? Not so fast.
The Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic just stunned the Indiana Pacers 81-77 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
There were lots of things being tossed around before the start of the series. The first was that the Pacers were going to win, and win convincingly without the most dominant center in the league playing for their opponent. The second was Pacers coach Frank Vogel preaching not to take the Magic lightly. The third was that the Magic could probably steal a game or two from going on a three-point rampage.
Well, at the end of the day, the Pacers, and Danny Granger in particular, shot themselves in the foot in game one and very much deserved to lose this one.
The Magic did not shoot particularly well from three-point range for almost the entire game, going 9 of 24. They only got to the line 11 times for the night, coverting 8. The Pacers had more blocks, rebounds, offensive rebounds and steals, as well as less turnovers. But they still lost.
Why? For starters, Danny Granger. Granger spent a lot of time this season talking about how he no longer needed to force up shots because this was a team full of weapons that he could rely on. But in game one, all of that went out the window as Granger tried to be “the man” to show that this Pacers team does have a “closer” and “superstar” after all. Granger scored 17 points but took a team high 20 shots, converting only 7, committed 5 of the team’s 10 turnovers, and worst of all, shot just 1-4 from the foul line, including two huge misses with the Pacers up by 1 and with 1:14 left on the clock. Jason Richardson would go on to hit a big three and Jameer Nelson would hit two free throws to almost put the game out of reach.
Down 80-77 with 7 seconds to go, the Pacers had one more chance to tie it, but Granger was called for a travel. Horrendous finish to a horrendous game for the Pacers’ leader.
To be fair to Granger, perhaps the reason he chucked up so many shots was because none of his teammates could score either. As a team, the Pacers shot an atrocious 34.5% from the field, but it was really their free throw shooting that lost them the game. The Pacers are known as one of the better free throw shotting teams in the league, but tonight they were 13-22, not even 60%.
It’s an unfortunate loss because Roy Hibbert played great on the defensive end with a career playoff high 9 blocks and grabbed 13 rebounds. However, his offense was nowhere to be found, going 3-11 from the field to end up with just 8 points. Everyone talked about how Hibbert was going to kill the Magic’s front line with his unmatched size, but he simply couldn’t get it going tonight.
The only guy who could make a shot was David West, who had 19 points and 9 rebounds on 8-14 shooting. They really ought to have gone to him more instead of allowing Granger to continue shooting.
I might have been a little harsh on Granger and the Pacers in the end. After all, it’s a 7-game series and this is just game one. Losing to a Dwight Howard-less Magic at home is embarrassing, but perhaps it’s exactly the kind of wake up call that this team needed. Remember, this is an unusual situation for them. Most of the guys on this team lack playoff experience and this is the first time they have been regarded as the favorites. The expectations, coupled with first round, first game jitters, clearly destabilized the team tonight. Maybe now they will start taking Vogel’s words about not taking this Magic squad lightly more seriously.
The silver lining to take out of the loss is that the Pacers still had a chance to win notwithstanding how poorly they played. But a loss is still a loss and now their margin of error has suddenly become a lot slimmer. If they lose game 2 it’s going to be a very uphill climb and could shatter this team’s confidence — not just for the rest of the playoffs but next season.
Game 2 is back at Bankers Life on Monday. It will be a good litmus test to see whether this Pacers team is a genuine contender or pretender.