These 34-point second halves just aren't cutting it for the Pacers.
For the second loss in a row, the Pacers came up impotent at winning time, matching the paltry 34-point second half from their loss to the Knicks on Wednesday. This time, however, the Pacers didn't cough up the ball repeatedly, instead they just couldn't shoot it straight. Plus, LeBron James was ready, willing and able to close out the win for the Cavaliers, 105-95.
The game went from a fast, paced bucket fest in the first half to a tough grind for the W in the second half. The Cavs led at the half 66-61 which included both teams lighting up the nets for 38 points in the first quarter. Talk about fun and exciting. It was simply too good to last.
The Pacers came out with a much better defensive mindset in the third quarter, holding the Cavs to a mere 11 points. But they failed to take advantage and build a big enough lead to hold off the inevitable run by the visitors. Then clanking up their own 13-point fourth quarter officially made this a tale of two halves that the Pacers would just soon forget.
Another thing we learned was the difference between an All-Star and a superstar in the NBA. The Pacers' All-Star, Danny Granger came up well short in his duel with LeBron tonight. You need only look at winning time in the fourth quarter to see the difference.
Granger was 1-8 in the final quarter, missing all five of his 3-ball attempts and finishing the quarter with three points and three fouls. With the game still in the balance, Granger had a pair of open threes and a layup attempt miss the mark. Plays he's been known to cash in, simply came up short. He also, passed up a three earlier to pump-fake and dribble in for a two, but that was short as well. Just couldn't find the rhythm when he needed it most. Granger finished with 17 points and 9 rebounds which came up short on this night.
Meanwhile, LeBron finished the fourth quarter with 10 points, all in the final 4:46 of the game. He made all of his free throws and stomped the last breath of air out of the Pacers with a long three-point dagger with 52 seconds to put the Cavs up seven and seal the deal. The bucket drew cheers from his local admirers and sent the Pacer faithful heading for the exits. 40 points, 7 assists and 9 rebounds will usually get it done for LeBron and tonight it was more than enough.
Despite Granger's struggles to keep up with LeBron, the Pacers actually had several players step up with solid contributions. In fact, the production the team received from T.J. Ford and Brandon Rush are usually solid indicators of a winning formula. The two back-court starters combined for 30 points and two turnovers. That has to be a record.
In the front court, Tyler Hansbrough and Troy Murphy pitched in heavily off the bench. Murph's return from injury could only have been better were there a win attached to the final score. He was able to play almost 24 minutes and logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. In fact, it took Murph exactly 22 seconds to grab his first rebound during his first appearance to start the second quarter.
Hansbrough played over 20 minutes as well and brought his text-book hustle to the scrap. He finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds, also snaring 3 steals and fueling one of the better Pacer highlights of the night, when he arrived out of nowhere to swat away a Mo Williams floater in the lane. The block was quickly turned into a flying Brandon Rush dunk at the other end.
Hansbrough was caught in a humorous moment shortly after he checked into the game in the first quarter. The rook found himself with the ball 18 feet away from the bucket with LeBron James sizing him up a few feet back. No doubt, James figured Hansbrough may attempt one of his patented bull rushes to the hoop. Instead, Hasnbrogh coolly knocked down the 18-footer and LeBron turned and just stopped dead in his tracks for a second when he saw the ball go through the hoop, like it was the last thing he expected.
So even with all of that good going on for the Pacers, the Cavs had too much for the home team. Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson were extremely active compliments to King James, keeping possession alive in first half and combining for 25 points on the night.
The losing indicator for the Pacers was definitely in the post, where foul trouble kept Roy Hibbert tethered to the bench. Solomon Jones didn't do anything spectacular in his 15 minutes and the coaches went with several lineup combinations that had Murph playing some center. Hibbert's offensive presence in the low post was sorely missed.
A few other quick points:
* Jim O'Brien was tossed out of the game about midway through the first quarter, a first for JOB as coach of the Pacers. He couldn't believe that all three refs swallowed their whistles after LeBron James crushed T.J. Ford within plain sight. JOB was well past the half-court stripe during the timeout and was soon heading back to his office where he listened to Slick and Boyle on the video feed.
* The Pacers head into another period of transition as they return some healthy bodies. JOB mentioned that Hansbrough and Murphy will likely play together as they did tonight, but they've only practiced together once. Jeff Foster returns on Sunday. Man, they could've used him inside tonight to help on the glass.
* Mike Dunleavy is expected to return next week, likely against the L.A. Clippers on Wednesday. His return will create more jumbling of the lineups, although it will take awhile before Dunleavy logs serious minutes. Still, while the options are plenty, the challenge of working the players into the right combinations remains