The Indiana Pacers were ready to start a new chapter after bidding farewell to Danny Granger after the 9th year veteran was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers just before the trade deadline for Evan Turnover and Lavoy Allen. The team had lost three of its last five games, but it appeared as though the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the second worst record in the league, were the perfect antidote for their struggles of late.
For a while, it seemed the night was over early as the Pacers came out firing early and built a 22-point lead in the second quarter. But as they've done numerous times throughout this season, they took the foot off the gas and allowed the young Bucks, who have nothing to fear and nothing to lose, to come all the way back to make a game of it. It was one of those games where you knew the Pacers are the far superior team but were also aware that they could still lose this game if they didn't get their act together.
Fortunately, the Pacers avoided embarrassment in the end, getting some stops and hitting some big baskets down the stretch to hold off the pesky Bucks, 110-100. Paul George appears to have broken out of that pre-All-Star break slump, going off for 32 points on 10-18 shooting including 5-7 from beyond the arc. It's the second consecutive game PG has broken the 30-point barrier, and both his jumpshot and confidence appear to be inching back to the levels they were at the start of the season.
David West was in beast mode all night and feasted on the youger, less experienced Bucks big men, tying a season-high with 30 on just 16 shots and adding 7 boards and 5 assists. Lance Stephenson was burned defensively by Brandon Knight, who had 30, for most of the evening but found his groove late to score 15 of his 24 in the 4th quarter, while adding 9 rebounds, 8 assists and zero turnovers.
Apart from this trio, however, the rest of the Pacers looked pretty awful. Roy Hibbert had 3 blocks but it's arguable that his replacement Ian Mahinmi, who added a couple of blocks of his own, is playing better basketball right now. Offensively, Roy has been downright ugly, throwing up airball jump hooks and missing point blank layups. His 1-9 from the field in 34 minutes was embarrassing. Part of that is the team's fault for not getting him enough touches in the post, but it's mainly on him to fix his badly broken offensive game before the playoffs.
George Hill was amazing. He played 31 minutes, took three shots and did not score. That has to be some kind of record, right? Hill has disappeared in too many games this season and tonight's performance was inexcusable. He needs to be more aggressive for the Pacers to have a chance at grabbing the top seed.
Off the bench, it's sad that Rasual Butler, who got extended minutes tonight because of Granger's absence (Turner only just arrived in Indiana), was the best reserve. He was aggressive in scoring 7 points off 10 shots, but he missed a whole bunch of wide open threes. I doubt Granger would have missed those.
On the whole, it wasn't a good game for the Pacers, but a win is a win. At 42-13, they are now back to 2 full games ahead of the Miami Heat for the best record in the East. Up next is a home game against the woeful LA Lakers on Tuesday, before another showdown with the Bucks on Thursday.