Today, the Indiana Pacers finished off their West coast road trip with a date with the LA Lakers.
Truth be told, all I was hoping for was not to have another embarrassment like what we witnessed in Miami a few weeks ago. I certainly did not expect the Pacers to beat the Lakers in LA, not with that imposing 9-1 home record (including 9 consecutive wins) and not with Kobe being Kobe.
But after falling behind early, the Pacers clawed, scratched, fought and chewed their way back into this one, and miraculously ended up winning 98-96 for by far their best victory of the season. I always say that this Pacers team is not as good as they think they are, but this amazing, well-deserved victory is starting to make me a believer of this team too. Sure, they are still going to have ugly nights (like the Miami game and that collapse in Sacramento), but a 11-4 record to start the season is beyond the wildest expectations of most fans.
Things certainly didn't look good in the first quarter, with the Lakers getting too many second chance opportunity, executing at both ends of the floor and even allowing Metta World Peace (don't think for a second that Pacers fans have forgotten about this man and what he almost single-handedly did to this franchise) to get off with one of his best performances of the season. At the first intermission the Pacers were down 27-14.
However, the Pacers did not give up and started improving their execution. Roy Hibbert was a beast down low. David West continued being aggressive. Dahntay Jones was, unlike the Dahntay we hate, playing like the Dahntay we love. By the time West sunk an unlikely fadeway three at the half-time buzzer, the Pacers were only down by 3.
The second half was a see-sawing event, punctuated by excellent team play by the Pacers and Kobe being Kobe (he finished with 33 points, most of them before the Pacers started doubling him to get the ball out of his hands). Still, Kobe managed to hit a fadeaway from the baseline at the third quarter buzzer to put the Lakers up 78-77 with 12 minutes to go.
I still believed the Pacers would falter in the fourth and allow the Lakers to run away with it. That's what I've been accustomed to over the last few years. But no. Even with some atrocious home officiating, a bloody broken nose for Hibbert and a few nerve-wracking offensive breakdowns, the Pacers refused to lose this one. A beautiful Hibbert pass to a cutting Collison put the Pacers up by a point. A missed shot at the other end led to two more free throws for Collison, putting the Pacers up by 3. Then Kobe missed a tough fadeaway three at the top of the key over the outstretched arms of Paul George, Granger hit a free throw, and Gasol scored on a putback on the buzzer to provide the final scoreline.
What a game and what a win.
- Roy Hibbert has to get serious All-Star consideration this year. Despite the broken nose (suffered in the first quarter) he was this game's MVP (18, 8 and 4 on 9-13 shooting, and most importantly outplaying Andrew Bynum) and has been the team's best player thus far, and he almost single-handedly kept the Pacers in contention in the fourth quarter. Just take a look at the Pacers' field goals in the fourth quarter:
- 7:43 - Roy Hibbert makes layup
- 6:58 - Roy Hibbert makes 5-foot hook shot
- 6.15 - Roy Hibbert makes 5-foot hook shot
- 5:31 - Roy Hibbert assists on Darren Collison's three-pointer
- 4:11 - Paul George breakaway dunk (assisted by Darren Collison)
- 3:18 - Roy Hibbert assists on Danny Granger's driving layup
- 1:40 - Roy Hibbert makes 3-foot hook shot
- 1:15 - Roy Hibbert assists on Darren Collison's layup
- That's right, apart from Paul George's fast break dunk on a broken play, Hibbert either scored or assisted on every single one of the Pacers' field goals in the fourth quarter (4 buckets and 3 assists). Now you tell me why the ball should not go into Roy Hibbert on just about every single half court play!!!!
- David West continued his streak of manly aggressiveness on this road trip. 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and that big three to end the half. Not flashy but the dude was in beast mode. I just feel safe with the ball in his hands. I can't wait until he gets his legs and conditioning back to 100%. A season-high 40 minutes tonight indicates to me that he is almost there.
- Danny Granger had another one of those "bad shooting (4-14 for 16 points) but big down the stretch" games (though he did miss a couple of key free throws). He had some bad calls go against him tonight but his defense was stellar. I can live with that from Granger as long as the Pacers win.
- Darren Collison has had a bad run of late but he picked it up tonight with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists in a more controlled performance. Of course, that go-ahead floater he hit over Kobe was the basket that won the game, and his calm free throws helped ice it.
- Paul George had a strong outing with 13 points (5-8 shooting), 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He got schooled by Kobe on numerous occasions (when will he ever learn to not jump on pump fakes?) but got the big stop when it mattered by forcing Kobe to take a tough three.
- George Hill had 11 points in 19 minutes, but his impact felt greater. He did his best on Kobe (and was arguably the most effective) but got outmuscled whenever he had to guard World Peace. I love this guy and what he brings to the team.
I'd like to say the road gets easier from here but it doesn't. Up next is a home game against the Orlando Magic and then another 3-game road trip, this time out East against the Bulls, Celtics and Magic again. None of the games will be easy, but you never know, especially if Bulls don't have Rose and the Celts don't have Rondo. The upcoming home game against Orlando will be HUGE because I don't imagine the Pacers winning both games against this Magic team. Perhaps they can prove me wrong yet again.