Finally, the 2013-2014 NBA season has begun, and the Indiana Pacers grabbed its auspicious first victory with a 97-87 win over the Orlando Magic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
They say the preseason doesn't mean anything and they would be right. The Pacers had a different look in their eyes from the opening tip as they raced out to a 12-0 lead, before a disastrous second quarter put them in a 44-40 hole at half time. The Pacers steadied the ship at the half to score 9 more points than the Magic in the third quarter to inch ahead by 5, before putting the game away with an early barrage that stretched the lead to as high as 19 before taking the foot off the gas.
There was a lot to like about this first game. With everyone still trying to get into synch, it wouldn't be the end of the world had the Pacers lost this one, but beating a likely non-playoff team will give them some confidence heading into tomorrow night's matchup against the up-and-coming Pelicans in New Orleans.
Paul George did not disappoint in his first regular season game after working to be the "main guy" this offseason, scoring a game-high 24 points to go with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and a steal. The 4 turnovers were the result of forcing things too much at times, but in all I believe this is a sign of great things to come from the budding superstar.
Roy Hibbert didn't show us a whole lot in the preseason, but tonight he came ready to play. Hibbert was arguably the Pacers' MVP tonight despite scoring just 8 points (on 3-6 shooting), largely because he had 16 rebounds (including 6 on the offensive end) and 7 blocks (!!!) in just 27 minutes of play. He was simply a beast on the defensive end and it was clear his presence on the court made the biggest difference in the game. It's still too early to tell, but Hibbert and George could combine to form the most fearsome inside-outside defensive duo in the league.
Unfortunately, Hibbert went down clutching his knee late in the third quarter and retreated to the locker room in the tensest moment of the evening, but by all acounts he is "fine" and could have returned if necessary. He'll be starting tomorrow night in New Orleans.
The other guy who dominated tonight was Lance Stephenson, who is gonna get PAID if he keeps playing like this every night in his contract year. Born Ready had a spectacular 19 points on 12 shot attempts to go with 7 rebounds, 5 assists and just 1 turnover. Most impressive was his willingness to power the ball up the court in transition situations, where he often appears unstoppable as long as he can stay under control.
As for the rest of the team, David West had a subpar game by his standards with 13 points and 5 rebounds but on just 4-11 shooting and throwing up 5 turnovers. But he did have 5 blocks and hit all 5 of his free throws. Luis Scola had a solid 8 points in 21 minutes of play, but it's obvious he's still trying to find his groove on the court and his place on the second unit. CJ Watson was solid in an off night for George Hill (who had 7 points, no assists, 2-8 shooting) and Chris Copeland didn't even play (an ominous sign for him).
Ian Mahinmi had one of those nights where things kept going wrong for him, but I liked the effort I saw from him in getting to the line 6 times, where he sank 4 shots for his only points of the night. Danny Granger's absence (which could be as long as 3 weeks) from nursing his calf injury could end up benefitting Orlando Johnson more than anyone else. Johnson showed again why he can be a valuable piece on this team, scoring 9 points while only missing one shot in 15 confident minutes of play.
Problem areas in this game -- same old story. The Pacers had 20 turnovers, which I suppose is acceptable in expectedly sloppy the first game of the season, but I'm sure they'd love to get it down to the 12-14 range every night. The other issue was free throw shooting, which Frank Vogel said he wanted close to 80%. Instead, the team shot just 22-32 tonight, just 68.8%.
Anyway, a satisfying first night for a team that hopes to be there on the last.