Sure, it was a middle of the season win over the lowly Washington Wizards, and yes, the Pacers prevailed only by a mere basket. But the Pacers' 85-83 road win over the Wizards had all the makings of a watershed moment for an Indiana team still searching for its identity as it heads into the playoff stretch.
The box score showed an ugly overall performance by the Pacers, yet if you watched what was for most of the night a tough game to take in, you saw a transformation. A transformation that started with the Pacers trailing by 22 early in the third and culminating in the final minute, with a thrilling come from behind victory.
It is no coincidence that the Pacers' comeback only commenced when Danny Granger started attacking the rim and Roy Hibbert finally quit letting Nene push him around down low.
In the first half, Indiana was awful in all aspects of the game. The team looked listless on offense and defensively the Pacers barely made any effort to protect the rim. By the end of the first quarter, and certainly the first half, the game should have been over, in large part because the Pacers were shooting themselves out of the game.
Time after time, Danny Granger and others would force rushed shots early in the clock. The Pacer bigs didn't have a chance to establish themselves, seceding the glass to the Wizards most of the night.
After halftime, however, the Pacers came out refreshed, re-energized and refocused. Whatever coach Frank Vogel said, worked. The most notable improvements came from Granger and Hibbert.
Granger stepped up his game and his leadership, demanding the ball and driving to the basket with reckless abandon. Even though Granger was at times too out of control for his own good, he continually drew fouls and got better, closer looks which allowed him to eventually gain his rhythm.
More impressively, however, was the work of Roy Hibbert. After going two-for-three in the first half, Hibbert poured in six second-half baskets and dominated the paint area, carrying Indiana down the stretch with one clutch basket after the other.
While the two Pacer All-Stars secured the win in Washington, their effort was more symbolic and uplifting in their meaning to the team.
For Indiana to make any sort of playoff run, they will have to rely on both Hibbert and Granger to close out ballgames. Too often this season, both players have been passive non-factors in games in which they could have and needed to dominate. For the Pacers to have a prayer at beating Miami or Chicago in a playoff series, Granger will no doubt have to be spectacular, while Hibbert will have to absolutely own Noah and Joel Anthony, respectively.
After a strong start to the season, many Pacer fans were beginning to wonder if that was possible. Granger has struggled shooting throughout the year, while Hibbert has faded in-and-out, going key stretches where the 7'2'' center seemed nearly invisible.
Tonight though, it seemed as if the two had overcome an obstacle in achieving success. Granger set the tone early in the third and Hibbert soon followed. More importantly, the team understood their presence and made sure their two leaders always had the ball. With the two leading the way, the Pacers chipped away until they finally took the lead with a minute to play.
The box score said it was just another away game in the middle of March, but if Thursday's game ignited Hibbert and Granger, it could mean so much more.
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