INDIANAPOLIS – This was a win that was important in many ways.
The race for the second seed in the Eastern Conference. A spark after a loss to the Bulls Saturday and a something positive to send the team on the road for the next four games.
Indeed the Pacers got those things with a 100-94 win over the Hawks Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and took a half-game lead over the Knicks for second place in the conference. None of that could have made Roy Hibbert feel a little better.
The center was more upset with how the Pacers nearly lost the game than how ended up coming out on top.
“That’s unacceptable,” said Hibbert of the team in the fourth quarter, when a 22-point Indiana lead at the beginning of the quarter was cut down to four when Atlanta’s John Jenkins hit a pair of free throws with 1:07 to go. “I would feel great if we won by 20-plus or at least 15-plus but it can’t be what happened because it was a downhill slope from there.
“Luckily Gerald was able to finish the game for us.”
He refers to Gerald Green who finally put the Hawks away with a corner three-pointer with 34 seconds left that finally put the Hawks away. It was the biggest positive for the Pacers in a quarter which they shot 25 percent from the field and turned the ball over ten times.
“They put in five guys who had great energy,” said head coach Frank Vogel of the Hawks in the final quarter. “They just tried to mix it up with zones and traps.”
Why this finish seems somewhat upsetting for the Pacers is because of the way they played the first 36 minutes when it appeared they would be on their way to a 20 points win. The team shot 52 percent from the floor in the first three quarters and outrebounded Atlanta 39-26 and built as much as a 28-point lead in the third quarter.
All of this was happening without starting point guard George Hill (Groin) or Lance Stephenson (Hip Flexor) were on the sidelines with injury. With David West already out with lingering lower back pain, the Pacers had three reserves in starting roles and dominated a likely playoff team for three quarters of the game.
“It’s always about when the next guy goes down the other guy has to be ready,” said Green, whose six points in the final 34 seconds added to his team-high 19 points. “This whole season has been about that, starting from Granger. Granger goes out, Lance stepped up tremendously and filled in his role.”
Orlando Johnson helped to fill Stevenson’s on Monday night as he scored 15 points off the bench while Jeff Pendergraph added in 14 of his own as he backed up Hansbrough (12 Points) who is filling in for West.
“We use that everyday in practice,” said Pendergraph of the coaching staff’s “Next Man Up” mentality. “When somebody goes down, everybody works their butt off every day in practice and before practice so if something ever does happen-somebody goes down-everybody is ready to play.”
That was the case for 75 percent of the game. While the 25 percent they didn’t lingers for some the hope is it will be a lesson for the team as they approach a four-game Western Conference road trip over the next week-and-a-half.
“It’s something we can learn from so we can comeback to the realization that we’ve got to put teams away in the fourth,” said Paul George of the finish.
So maybe next time the end result can be a satisfying as the start.