No one's expecting the Pacers to turn the corner overnight, but today's 94-83 win over the Boston Celtics is certainly a move in the right direction, and at least halts heir season-high 4-game losing streak. The final score was not indicative of how close this game was, as the Celts closed within a single point during the fourth quarter until the Pacers pulled away with some fortunate baskets.
By the numbers, the Pacers appear to be doing better, holding the Celtics to 35.2% shooting while shooting 54.8% themselves. But they gave up a whopping 20 offensive boards and committed 16 turnovers, both of which are still way too high. Paul George was in foul trouble and finished with an efficient 12 points on 10 shots, and it was again up to David West to carry the load. And he did, transforming into beast mode to rack up 24 points on 11-13 shooting.
Lance Stephenson struggled to hit a shot all night but had two big baskets — a three and a driving bank shot — that allowed the Pacers to maintain their lead. Besides, every bad game Lance has from now on has a silver lining — it will diminish his value in the offseason. George Hill had 12 points on 4-11 shooting, but at least he was aggressive.
Roy Hibbert played with a lot more emotion and effort tonight, probably because of the debut of a guy I'm about to get to next. Hibbert only had 6 points, but he did grab 9 boards and block 2 shots.
Now for the big news of the evening, which is the surprise return of new addition Andrew Bynum. He wasn't supposed to return until later in the week, but with Ian Mahinmi injured and the team in desperate need of a lift, Bynum came in and provided just that. In 16 minutes of play, Bynum had 8 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, but he also had 3 turnovers. But if he can put up this kind of production every night then he will be HUGE for the Pacers for the rest of the season and in the playoffs.
Bynum looked ginormous out there and still rather fit despite this being his first game in months. It's clear he's worked hard to get himself back into shape and his effort level was definitely there. Most importantly, he provides the Pacers with a dominating offense presence that Roy and Mahinmi can only dream of. One of his baskets and an assist came from lobs into the middle of the paint as the defense tried to front him. Once he got the ball, it was an automatic flush or double team, which opened it up for a cutting David West. Apart from those plays and an and-one hook shot, his other basket came off an offensive rebound. He just takes up so much room in there. I'm optimistic that if he stays healthy he'll be much more valuable to the Pacers than Greg Oden is to the Heat.
The rest of the Pacers bench picked it up as well. With Mahinmi and CJ Watson out, Luis Scola stepped up to score 11 points on 5-7 shooting, while Evan Turner did not miss a shot en route to 9 points and 3 assists. I know Turner has not fit in as well as we would like — so far — but even with Granger playing better in LA I still believe the trade was the right move. Turner is just so much more versatile and explosive than Granger at this stage of their careers, and once he learns the system at both ends of the floor the upgrade will become obvious to all the doubters.
But tonight is all about Bynum. I guess we'll see how his body holds up tomorrow, but the good thing is that the Pacers won't play again until Friday, and it'll be against the tanking Philadelphia 76ers. With the Pacers still struggling to right the ship, a game against the NBA's longest losing streak (currently 17 and could be 18 by the time they play the Pacers) is just what the doctor ordered. Surely Bynum will get booed all night, and that will only motivate him to play with more effort and energy.
I'm getting more and more intrigued about the potential of this Pacers team as the season draws to a close. If Turner and Bynum can integrate the way they need to and George and Hibbert refind their early season form, then we're in for a real exciting playoff push that could go all the way to June.