Post-Game Grades: Pacers Beat Blazers, Rise Above .500
In a shocking development, a few of Indiana’s bench players entered the game in the third quarter and spurred a big enough run to put a bullet in the Blazers. A 17-4 run over the final five minutes of the period turned what had been a closely contested game into one that the Pacers looked poised to run away with. Even better, this came after the starters began the half with a 6-0 run of their own.
One reason that this stretch of bench play wasn’t as discouraging as usual is obvious: David West and Paul George were out there the whole time. Coach Frank Vogel chose not to sub out all the starters for a full bench unit, per usual, and instead left two of his three reliable offensive options on the floor. In fact, he held with Lance Stephenson as well until just 2:30 left in the quarter (in a lineup of West, George, Stephenson, DJ Augustin and Ian Mahinmi). Green then came in and hit a three to keep the good times rolling.
This excellent third quarter play was an uncanny staple of last year’s Pacers. This, year, however, consistent offensive production has been nonexistent for stretches approaching 12 full minutes. But last night, Indiana outscored Portland 31-14 and nearly put the game out of reach.
The Blazers did mount a comeback.
Future Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews combined for 16 points in the fourth. LaMarcus Aldridge even awoke from his two-quarter-long slumber to contribute a few points.
But even though the same bench that helped build the big lead began to give it all back early in the final quarter, the cushion Indiana created was ultimately enough to prevent the Blazers from having a good shot to win late. A few slick passes from Paul George, who may have had the best passing game of his career, and a mid-range dagger from West were enough to hold off the vandals. The team was even able to withstand two excellent half-court plays yielded zero points, as a superb George/West pick-and-roll on back-to-back plays got the Pacers two wide-open threes, but neither Sam Young nor Gerald Green were able to knock down their looks.
The key is have played well enough earlier in the game to swallow a few unfortunate breaks later. Really, all you can ask a team to do down the stretch is run good plays that create good shots. The Pacers did that. They just missed them.
The difference between this week’s wins over Portland and Chicago win was that, against the Blazers, there was some chance Indiana would lose because they missed shots they should make while, against the Bulls, there was only some chance the would win because Paul George made a bunch of tough shots. The odd fan fascination with machismo and NBA teams needing “a closer” means that most people would rather watch their team win while George saves them with heroic contested jumpers than as a good, game-log performance just outlasts the clock. But every coach in the world would rather win by playing better basketball for 48 minutes.
|David West, PF 32 MIN | 8-11 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 16 PTS | +11I didn’t even realize he was shooting as well as he was until the game was nearly over. That’s a pretty good microcosm of this year so far: even when you don’t notice David West carrying the Pacers, David West is carrying the Pacer.|
|Paul George, SF 38 MIN | 7-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 8 REB | 5 AST | 22 PTS | +4His first back-to-back 20-plus scoring games of the season came in his team’s back-to-back wins over Chicago and Portland. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him pass this well. The dish to Hill, the overhead bounce pass to Mahinmi, the lob entry to West, the perfectly timed entry passes, the “this guy in the corner is even more open then me” swing passes. They were all works of art.|
|Roy Hibbert, C 29 MIN | 3-13 FG | 4-4 FT | 7 REB | 0 AST | 10 PTS | +1Big fella couldn’t hit water with an anchor right now, but he was still there in the paint preventing guys from scoring. He was a primary culprit in horrible team pick-and-roll defense that gave JJ Hickson two easy dunks though.|
|George Hill, PG 34 MIN | 5-13 FG | 5-5 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 18 PTS | +5Scored most of his point during a key 10-1 run near the end of the first half. Played fine and kept the ball moving to the right people in the right places. Nothing that was memorably fantastic, but did his job well overall. On offense anyway. On the other end, got roasted by Lillard on several drives and didn’t help things in the pick and roll at times.|
|Lance Stephenson, SG 23 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 2 PTS | +4You would like to see more points, but if this is what a “bad” Lance game now looks like, that is something all Pacers fans should be happy with. Starting to be a more active rebounder, which with his athleticism should result in him being able to grab a miss and spark the break.|
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 16 MIN | 3-6 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 10 PTS | -2A comical travel, a bunch of FTs, two dunks and some boards. The ideal expectations from Tyler.|
|Sam Young, SF 12 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | +2Why he remains in the rotation baffles me.|
|Gerald Green, SF 23 MIN | 3-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 8 PTS | +2Hit some treys, took some bad shots.|
|Ian Mahinmi, C 19 MIN | 6-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 12 PTS | +4The best bench player on the team at this point. He didn’t miss and played solid defense.|
|D.J. Augustin, PG 15 MIN | 0-3 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 1 PTS | +4Did his DJ Augustin stuff.|