The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference just got back an All-Star; doesn't seem fair, does it?
If you thought the Indiana Pacers would hang their hands after their achingly close loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, you were dead wrong. Instead, the Pacers annihilated the Houston Rockets, 114-81, on Friday in front of a raucous crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In the end, the fans weren't chanting for MVP candidate Paul George, but for a Pacer who had played only five games in 2012-13: Danny Granger. The former All-Star wing was showered with applause when he checked into the game in the first half, and fans greeted his first made field goal with chants of "Dan-ny, Dan-ny!"
Once Granger had checked out of the game for good, it was George—who has supplanted Granger as the Pacers' star—who led the crowd in one more chant for Granger.
This nationally televised game gave the country a chance to see just how much Granger means to both the Pacers' players and fans.
This young team has mostly grown up together, and they have grown up with Granger as their leader. The entire Indiana starting five—George, Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West—played with Granger in 2011-12, when he was the team's unquestioned star. Clearly, they haven't forgot what Granger has meant to the Pacers.
After the win, George took to Twitter to express his pleasure in getting Granger back on the court:
Happy to have my big bro back! #LongRangeGrange— Paul George (@Paul_George24) December 21, 2013
Granger wasn't really needed in this game; honestly, the powerhouse Pacers haven't needed much help so far this season. He didn't look particularly sharp on offense. But for one night, the Pacers seemed complete.
For a guy who used to average 20 points per game, Granger's final stat line looked pretty sorry. He was clearly rusty, and it showed in his shooting and ball-handling.
In 22 minutes, Granger finished with five points on 1-of-7 shooting (1-of-4 from beyond the arc), with two rebounds, two assists and five turnovers. Longtime analyst and former coach Hubie Brown remarked during the game that Granger wasn't lining up properly on his shots.
The turnovers were particularly egregious against a Houston team that ranks just 27th in the league in opponents' turnover percentage. Indiana was really moving the ball well on Friday—they set a new season high with 29 assists—so perhaps Granger was simply getting caught up in the moment. Either way, he has a lot of work to do.
Defensively, Granger fit in just fine with the Pacers' first-overall defense. Indiana coach Frank Vogel clearly made getting back on D a priority against the Rockets' fast-paced attack, and Granger was working hard to get back, even in the fourth quarter of a blowout win. He also had a highlight-reel block of Dwight Howard.
All-in-all, Granger had a decent debut. His timing was off, his shot was off, but that is probably to be expected after such a long layoff. He seemed to be moving fine. The other stuff will come with time.
What Can Granger Bring to the Pacers?
This is no longer Danny Granger's team, not by a long shot. He will probably come of the bench for the remainder of the season.
But there is a real need for Granger on the bench. Even with the addition of scoring big Luis Scola, Indiana's bench still averages the fourth-fewest points per game in the league. Teaming Granger with Scola could give the Pacers' bench a potent inside-out scoring duo.
Granger has certain strengths that should help him improve this current Indiana roster. He has traditionally been an above-average three-point shooter, with two seasons of shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. Also, he has been adept at getting to the free-throw line in his career. The Pacers rank 12th in three-point shooting and seventh in free throws per field-goal attempt, according to Basketball Reference.
Perhaps most importantly, Granger turns the ball over far less than the other Indiana perimeter players.
His career turnover rate of 11.0 percent is lower than the 2013-14 averages of either Paul George (12.1 percent) or Lance Stephenson (17.8 percent). In fact, his turnover rate would be the best of any Pacers rotation player this season, with the exception of end-of-the-bench players Chris Copeland and Rasual Butler.
Turnovers have been perhaps the biggest weakness of this Indiana team. They are ranked 21st in team turnover rate. They could surely use a scorer who can take care of the ball.
Below is a comparison of Granger's career, his last healthy season (2011-12) and the Pacers' averages in three-point percentage, turnover rate and free-throw rate (FTr)
If Granger can come close to those types of offensive percentages, he will fill in perhaps the last weakness on the Indiana roster.
After Friday's game, it is clear the Pacers players want Danny Granger to have a part on this team. The fans want him to play in Indiana. There is a legitimate contender playing in Indy. A championship would be sweet, but a championship with a longtime fan favorite contributing would be even better.