On a night when most of the United States was watching the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Sochi, the rest of the country was focused on watching two giants in the NBA slug it out at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Portland Trail Blazers entered the game with the second best record in the Western Conference and were led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, their only All-Stars. Known for their dominating ability on the glass and from beyond the three-point line, Portland faced a tall task on the road against a Pacers squad that leads the entire NBA in defense.
The Indiana Pacers entered the game as the top team in the Eastern Conference with a 38-10 record, 23 of those wins coming at home. While they boast two All-Stars of their own, the Pacers have been criticized for how weak the Eastern conference is outside of the top few teams. When there’s only four teams in the entire conference with winning records, whose to blame the critics?
Friday night NBA basketball seemed like a perfect chance for the Pacers to prove they are a force to be reckoned with throughout the league. The first quarter was uninspiring for the most part. The Pacers found themselves down 28-16 at the end of the first quarter and with only five rebounds on the stat sheet. The story of the first quarter played out for much of the first half and into the second, where the Pacers would try to drive the lane, only to be pushed back out by Aldridge and Robin Lopez, one of the most underrated duos in the league. At the end of the first half, the Pacers found themselves down by five, although they shot a decent 43 percent from the field despite just a handful of rebounds.
The second half was when the Pacers finally started to assert dominance upon the Trail Blazers. With Aldridge getting into foul trouble late in the third quarter, guys really stepped up for the Pacers, including David West who finished with 30 points and 10 rebounds. Aside from West, George Hill also stepped up huge, particularly in the second half, as he ended up with 37 points and nine boards, a far cry from his typical 10.5 PPG Pacers fans are used to seeing. The crowd started to get into the game late in the fourth quarter and with about six minutes left in the game, the dynamic had changed.
The depth of the Pacers during Friday night’s game showed that they are very capable of making a playoff run to get to the Eastern Finals, if not the NBA Finals. With the crowd in their favor, the Pacers picked away at the Trail Blazers’ diminishing lead and eventually tied the game up before going to overtime. Due to injury, Lance Stephenson was out of tonight’s game, putting more pressure on others to step up in his absence. While he only accounted for seven points on the stat sheet, Danny Granger showed up big time and held a +21 point margin while he was on the floor, a game-high for both teams.
With Granger, West and Hill all stepping up against a top notch opponent like the Trail Blazers, Frank Vogel should feel very confident in his team going forward. The drive they showed tonight should make the Miami Heat a little nervous, especially if the Pacers get home court advantage in the playoffs. The slugfest between the Trail Blazers and Pacers on Friday night proves that the Pacers are certainly in the driver’s seat of their own destiny, which is great news if you are a Pacers fan.