It did not look good for a very long time. The Pacers were coming off a closer-than-it-should-have-been victory over the cellar-dwelling 76ers last night and were up against a Pistons team looking to make a final push for the 8th seed in the East. No one said it would be easy as the Pacers look to turn the corner following a 4-game losing streak and 2 tough wins against crap teams, but I doubt anyone saw the game turning out the way it did.
The game was close until the final minutes of the first quarter, and then all of a sudden the Pistons were up by 25 points! And most of the damage was done without Andre Drummond, who hurt his neck after smashing his head into Roy Hibbert's fatass while scrambling for a loose ball.
It looked all over at that point and I was ready to burn all my Pacers gear, but they made a little run just before the half to pull within 19. They then came out with a different look in their eyes and pulled within 6 heading into the final period. Paul George had an opportunity to ice it with a second left but missed, sending the game into overtime tied at 100 apiece. But once they were there, the Pacers turned it up a notch on the defensive end and completed a stunning turnaround to capture a 112-104 win.
Paul George continued his confident play en route to 30 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, 3 steals and just 2 turnovers, but what impressed me the most was his ability to get to the line when the team struggled and nailed down all 10 of his free throws.
It was, however, a full team effort in the end. David West, who finished with 15 and 8, was quiet early but when the game was on the line they went to him repeatedly — and he delivered. West made 3 of the 4 Pacer baskets in OT, all on mid-range jumpers. Pretty much all of them were off two-man pick and rolls with Lance Stephenson, who scored the other basket on a drive that effectively iced the game. Lance, who also hit a huge three pointer with less than 2 minutes left in regulation that kept the Pacers in the game, shot onlt 5-15 from the field but had a pretty stat line of 13, 9 and 6, and most importantly just 1 turnover.
George Hill had a lot on his plate tonight as the only true PG on the roster with CJ Watson (hamstring) and Donald Sloan (personal reasons) both out, and he had a lot of trouble putting the ball in the hole, scoring just 2 points on 1-7 shooting. He did have 7 rebounds and only a single turnover. On the whole the Pacers did take care of the team as a whole, coughing up the ball only 10 times after doing it 21 times the night before.
Roy Hibbert did OK. 12 points, 5 rebounds, a block and a bunch of changed shots. He did hit a big, confident basket towards the end of regulation to keep the Pacers up by 2.
The Pacers bench was huge tonight, figuratively and literally. Andrew Bynum was kept out last night against Philly so he could play tonight, and the strategy paid off as he had 15 points, 9 rebounds and a block in 20 minutes. He shot poorly, 6-18, but showed that if he continues to improve his fitness and conditioning while remaining healthy he will be a massive factor come playoff time.
Evan Turner, who has been much-maligned since the Granger trade, poured in 20 points on 8-15 shooting and had 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Granger had 0 points in 18 minutes for the Clippers last night. I know people will keep comparing their stat lines to make arguments about whether Larry Bird should have pulled the trigger on the trade, but I don't need to read box scores to know the Legend made the right decision. You just need to watch the games and see how much more Turner brings to the table.
So the Pacers take another step towards turning the corner and extend their lead over Miami to 3.5 games for the best record in the East with 16 games left to play. They'll need to go 12-4 the rest of the way to match the team's franchise record of 61-21. A couple of months ago it looked like a forgone conclusion but now it's looking like a stretch.
The Pacers will get another couple of nights off before getting a chance to go on a 4-game run with Philly heading into town. After that they'll have a real test in the Knicks, who are currently on a 6-game winning streak and could end up facing the Pacers in the first round if they keep it up and sneak into the playoffs.