Pacers' Win over Grizzlies a Major Step Forward Before Tough January Schedule

Dan GruchalaContributor IIJanuary 2, 2013

Dec 31 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) chases after a loose with Memphis Grizzlies  forward Rudy Gay (22) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Memphis 88-83. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the season, things looked pretty bleak for Pacers fans.

After they lost to the Knicks on November 18th to send their ever-more unimpressive record to 4-7, the Indiana faithful likely thought their Pacers had no chance of beating a team of the Grizzlies' caliber. Maybe they didn't back then, but one of the great things about the NBA is that it's a long season, and much can change.

Of course, a schedule like the one the Pacers played from mid-November through to the start of 2013 would be enough to right a lot of teams' wrongs.

Twelve of their next 19 games were against teams that didn't make the playoffs the year before.

The Pacers took advantage with a record of 13-6 over that span.

They proved that they don't have any trouble beating bad teams, as evidenced by their 16-2 record overall against non-playoff teams.

The Pacers' problem is their inability to beat good teams; before the Grizzlies game, they had a 1-11 record against playoff teams.

This was a problem which—considering their pitiless January schedule, in which they will face the Bucks, Heat and Knicks in succession followed by the Nets, Rockets, Grizzlies and Trail Blazers—they needed to get resolved quickly in order to have some confidence moving forward.

If they would have lost this game, and lost it badly, it could have initiated a tailspin from which they may never have recovered.

Both teams were in fourth place in their respective conferences. Both teams like to work through their big men. Both have athletic, potentially dynamic small forwards and point guards who can score.

The Grizzlies came into the contest in the midst of their best start in franchise history with a record of 19-8. An argument could be made that their front court of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is the best in the NBA.

Defensively, the Grizzlies collapse on the lane very well—the key to beating them is to get dribble penetration and then kick a pass out to the perimeter for an open jumper.

Someone from the Pacers' 28th-ranked offense needed to have a good shooting night.

The problem there is that the Pacers are without an identity offensively.

What has become the Pacers "big three"—David West, George Hill and Paul George—has been inconsistent at best on the offensive end. 

West, the team's leading scorer, averages just 17.5 points per game. In his last six games, he has scored more than 15 points only twice, scoring as few as 12 against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 18th.

Paul George is second on the Pacers' scoring list with 16.5 points per game, and point guard George Hill is third with 15.2. Neither of them have been any more consistent than West.

Fortunately for the Pacers, they wouldn't need a huge offensive showing; the Grizzlies 22nd-ranked offense is equally unimposing.

In a New Year's Eve matchup that no network programming director would ever chose to air, the top two defensive teams in the NBA squared off and the Pacers got the win they so desperately needed with an inspired fourth-quarter comeback.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the local markets of those two teams or foolish enough to buy the NBA League Pass—even though we know the price is exorbitant but basketball fanaticism pushes us to do ridiculous things sometimes (guess which one I am)—were treated to two impressive defensive showings, fundamentally sound basketball and scoring from unexpected sources.

If only those execs knew what they were depriving their viewers of—ah, the world would be a better place. 

The Pacers got the win thanks in large part to their prowess from beyond the three-point line.

As a team they shot 48 percent from beyond the line. The biggest surprise came from backup point guard D.J. Augustin, who hit four of seven en route to his season-high 17 points.

Now they know they can beat a playoff team, and though January's competition is stiff, things could be worse—the three games in succession against the Bucks, Heat and Knicks will all be in Indianapolis.