Three Answers Have Aided Pacers Recent Run
The Pacers have had their share of questions this season. Before it even began, there was an understandable worry about Danny Granger’s knee, what the problem was and when he might return. His absence altered the rotations, and in turn affected the bench, which didn’t turn out quite like the team wished. And then, there was the uneasiness about Roy Hibbert, whose offensive game was lagging.
Over the last seven days while the team was together, they appeared to get even closer, if that’s possible. The additional time together in the air, at the hotel and on the hardwood has further enforced the “togetherness” that Coach Vogel constantly preaches.
During that stretch, in which they won all four road games out West for the first time since 2003-04, the players seemed comfortable, confident and in tune with what needs to happen the rest of the way. In the process, three answers lent a hand.
That problem was temporarily solved last Thursday when the team announced that Granger’s knee still wasn’t right and he was going to go under the scope, thus ending his season. For the team, that meant no more daily questions about how he looked in practiced, when he might return and how that might alter what they currently have going. Amongst the players especially, the news has to be assuring. Of course they wanted No. 33 back, but the unknown of when had to be irritating.
His missed time also required everyone to re-evaluate their place on this team. For some, like Orlando Johnson, it equated to playing time. Others had to learn how to close and be ‘that guy’ late in games.
“Danny [Granger] was in the lineup a lot of times last year, and he was one of the closers for us,” Paul George said after edging the Clippers Monday. “[Earlier in the year] we were just mixed up a little bit. A lot of guys, myself included, a lot of pressure was put on me that I shouldn’t have put it on myself, as far as learning how to finish games, and being someone that Coach can trust with the ball late in games.”
So Granger’s season is over (before it really began). Check.
It’s been a work-in-progress all season. Even Pacers officials will tell you mistakes were made in the offseason and this group isn’t as strong as they had hoped. But what they and the team know with seven regular-season games remaining is what they’re going to get from each guy. And that’s important.
Tyler Hansbrough has a high motor, a no-quit attitude and will get under the opponent’s skin. He’s averaged 11.7 points, 8.5 rebounds in the last 10 games, which included six starts for the injured David West. Ian Mahinmi, who can collect some rebounds and challenge shots at the rim, will hit the floor for about 15 minutes per game. D.J. Augustin can hold down the fort and knock down a couple shots. Sam Young can keep the opponents’ best wing in check while giving Paul George a breather. Rookie Orlando Johnson understands the system and hasn’t been afraid of the moment.
The lone wildcard is Gerald Green. With him, confidence is critical. He has been good in spurts but his decision-making is often questionable. Green led the team in scoring in three of his last seven appearances. He sat out the last two games with an upper respiratory infection.
As a group, they contribute 26.3 points per game, which is 29th in the league. That’s not a big deterrent but also more of a testiment to the starting bunch. Memphis is 27th, Miami 25th and Oklahoma City checks in at 22. All very good, contending teams.
More production from the bench would be nice and allow the starters more rest. At this point, however, Vogel and his staff knows what each reserve can provide and the players all understand their role. Check.
The Big Dawg
By the time the clock hit :00 Monday night and the Pacers had not just won that game but all four on a Western Conference swing, it was 1:17 PM EDT. Because of the late tip, most fans probably turned in for the night and missed the night Roy Hibbert had.
Because the Pacers nearly surrendered a 24-point lead after leading the entire way, his play took a backseat to the comeback in the game story. But what a game – and Western Conference trip – he had.
In the first quarter, Hibbert was perfect: 7-for-7 from the field and 3-for-3 at the charity stripe. He even scored the Pacers’ last seven points in the quarter to keep them in front after one. By night’s end, Hibbert led all scorers with 26 points (and he would have had more if not for foul trouble) and he had 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double in the last seven games.
His early season struggles are documented and as we know, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. Like Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner said on the TV broadcast, he was missing “gimme puts”. Lately, he’s put in more work with assistant coach Jim Boylen and the bigs after practice. He has begun to mimic David West’s workouts. More than anything, his assurance on the offensive end has returned.
Hibbert has had games where he looked his old self – like a 20 points, 15 rebounds performance against Milwaukee on Jan. 5 – but it wasn’t safe to deem him back. Now it is, however, after the week – and month – he just turned in.
During the four-game trip, Hibbert scored at least 20 points three times, which bodes well for the Pacers. They are 6-1 this season when he tallies at least 20 points. His per game averages over the last 10 games: 18.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.6 blocks … and he has made 48.6 percent of his shots.
His defense has been there all along. He’s the last line of defense on the NBA’s best defensive team. Coupled with his recent offensive play, Hibbert is playing like the All-Star that he was last season. Check.
The Pacers have won five-straight and eight of their last 10 games, heading into Friday’s clash with Oklahoma City. Their magic number to win the division is two. [Editor's Note: Chicago lost to the Wizards on Tuesday night to make the Pacers magic number one.]
“We game together,” George added. “We’re playing great team ball.”
David West on Monday’s victory: “When it got close, I thought we made the plays, got contests, and we made our free throws down the stretch to win the game.”
No I, all we.