Pacers show up in Game 2 to even series with short-handed Magic
The Pacers went back to basics Monday, rebounding from a stunning Game 1 loss and a troubling Game 2 deficit to even their series with the Magic after a 93-78 win at Indianapolis. Five players scored in double figures and, more important, the Pacers appeared to regain their confidence. Let's break down the keys to Game 2:
• Welcome to the playoffs, Pacers. It took another half, but they finally remembered what got them to the postseason. After choking away Game 1, the Pacers came out tentative for the first half of Game 2, passing out of shot opportunities and reacting slowly to missed shots. In the third quarter, the Pacers went back to what worked so well for 66 games this season. George Hill (18 points) pushed the pace, his teammates flexed their considerable athleticism and the Pacers attacked the glass, outrebounding the Magic 28-13 in the second half. Credit coach Frank Vogel with tethering Indiana to its principles even without Roy Hibbert, who missed most of the second half with foul trouble and, well, uninspired play. The Pacers don't shoot the three-pointer in bulk, so the 2-for-20 long-range performance didn't hurt, not when you can take advantage of a smaller team and outscore it in the paint 50-28.
• Experience counts for something. With Hibbert locked up by Glen Davis and Danny Granger struggling to find his rhythm, it was Hill who saved the Pacers. Much as Orlando had demonstrated in the first half, Hill understood that getting into the lane isn't a matter of muscle, but mindset. Hill, the former Spur whose playoff experience is a rarity on the young Pacers, sliced past defenders repeatedly in the third quarter to keep the ball flowing toward the basket. The strategy worked against an undersized group of defenders. Hill's aggressiveness rubbed off on Granger and Paul George, who used his long limbs to clog up passing lanes when he wasn't gliding past them for 17 points. Unsophisticated as it may sound, sometimes winning in the playoffs -- any game -- is related to who's willing to fight harder.
• Big Baby has grown up. Davis may have had his share of maturity issues before, but this series has thus far reminded us how valuable an engaged Davis can be. Not once did he concede position in the low or high post without a fight. He bounced inside and out for rebounds and kept his composure while battling the combined 500 pounds of Hibbert and David West. A sore ankle and outright fatigue muted Davis' contributions in the second half -- he finished with 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting and 10 rebounds -- but with Davis, the Magic can at least cling to the idea that a first-round win isn't impossible.
• The dominoes didn't align for the Magic. With Dwight Howard out, Orlando needs a total team effort to win. Davis has to punch up in his weight class effectively. Jameer Nelson has to probe the lane and the Magic's shooters have to be on the mark. Davis and Nelson did their parts, but a combined 4-of-14 shooting performance from Ryan Anderson and Jason Richardson fed a generally dismal shooting night. All three legs must stand for the Magic to win now, and if even one of them buckles, that's going to cost Orlando without the security blanket Howard provided. Orlando may have gotten the road win it needed, but the Magic will be hard-pressed to extend the series again without another total effort.
• Potential Hibbert buyers, beware. Earlier this season, Hibbert's agent, David Falk, mused about the possibility of the Pacers center testing restricted free agency rather than signing an extension. If Monday's performance was any indication, Hibbert should have signed his deal yesterday. The 7-foot-2 center was thoroughly dominated by Davis, despite a five-inch height advantage.
After earning his first All-Star nod this season, it was thought Hibbert had gotten past the inconsistency that plagued his first three years in the league. But Game 2 revealed a player who has more developing to do. He struggled to get deep post position on the more athletic Davis. And when he did get the ball, his movement could have been timed with a sun dial. Athleticism wasn't the problem; decisiveness was. Time and time again, Hibbert was slow to move, whether it was turning toward the basket or looking for a cutter. Those wasted seconds gave Davis all the time he needed to neutralize Hibbert into a role better found on the bench.