It took three games, but the Pacers finally looked as many expected they would against a Magic team missing Dwight Howard. They led by as many as 29 points and never trailed en route to a 97-74 victory, taking a 2-1 lead.
As has come to be expected, Indiana started out red-hot before losing their grip on the game in the second quarter. The Pacers scored on four of their first five possessions, played stingy defense and took a 23-14 lead after 12 minutes. They had six assists in the first quarter after recording a total of nine in their Game 2 victory.
The Magic endured a slow start to challenge in the second. The Pacers went cold, going 1-for-10 over a stretch that spanned the first two quarters, while Glen Davis went off. He scored 16 points in the second period as he hit seemingly every midrange jumper he attempted.
Orlando outscored Indiana by three to close to within six at halftime. It marked the first time in the series that the Pacers led at the half. Once again, however, the third quarter was the story.
After holding a 30-13 edge in the third quarter of Game 2, the Pacers dominated to begin the second half with a 32-17 edge. Their offensive execution was crisp, they defended well and had a +8 rebounding advantage.
Overall, this was the best Indiana has looked offensively in the postseason. They shot 46.8%, assisted on 16 of their 37 field goals and committed just 12 turnovers. They grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, eight more than Orlando despite missing nine fewer shots.
The Pacers were able to stifle any serious run in the second half because they took away Orlando’s perimeter game. Indiana went 8-for-20 from three-point range, while the Magic were 5-for-15 on the night. Stan Van Gundy’s team wasn’t able to effectively get shots off from downtown because the Pacers stayed home on their shooters.
Davis was an immovable object in the first half, but was once again missing in action late. He had just six points in the second half after his monster second quarter. The undersized center seemed to thrive on battling with Roy Hibbert, who had Ryan Anderson on him in the third period when it was his time to dominate on both ends.
The Pacers don’t need a lot of offense from Hibbert to win, but he provided them with more than enough over a hot stretch in the third. He finished with 18 points (8-for-10), 10 rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes. They were once again solid with Hibbert on the floor and when David West slid over to center
Vogel admitted in his postgame interview that he will continue to play matchups in the paint with the Magic missing Howard. If you read between the lines, you know he will go to Hibbert or West based on which player is guarded by Anderson. Davis is smaller, but he has a bigger body and uses it well to defend post players of all sizes.
Van Gundy railed on Anderson in his own press conference, questioning his desire on the defensive end and boards because he wasn’t able to score points. Heading into Game 4, we might see a bit more of Earl Clark. With that said, Van Gundy was generous in spreading criticism around.
“I don’t think anybody played well,” Van Gundy surmised before taking accountability for the loss himself.
West’s stat line was disappointing given his efforts in the first two games, four points (2-for-9) and eight rebounds, but he continued to be a stabilizing force for the team. They play much more under control when he is on the floor.
The Pacers approached the Magic in terms of bench scoring (Orlando held a 25-22 edge) for the first time all series, they dominated the transition game and the Magic hurt themselves by struggling from the foul line (9-for-18).
Darren Collison’s midrange game clicked as he continues to adjust to a reserve role, while the Indiana defense didn’t allow J.J. Redick to go off as the main scorer on Van Gundy’s second unit. Redick scored seven-straight points for Orlando in the second half of Monday’s game, but wasn’t allowed to get into a rhythm two nights later.
The Pacers showed more energy for a majority of the game, holding an 18-0 edge in fastbreak points. On most missed shots or botched possessions, Indiana had at least four of their men down the floor and back in their defensive set before Orlando could create any sort of quick offense.
If Vogel can get his team to play this type of perimeter defense with Hibbert patrolling the paint, it’s going to be hard for the Magic to extend this series. If Danny Granger, who was tremendous in Game 3, hit his free throws in Game 1, the Pacers would be leading this series 3-0 with eyes on a potential sweep this weekend.
Granger had perhaps his best offensive game of the last month, going 9-for-16 with 26 points thanks to 5-for-9 shooting from three. He hadn’t scored more points than field goals attempted since April 19 against Philadelphia.
His shot selection was much better than it was in the first two games, though there were at least two instances in this game in which Granger launched a jumper before the television crew could switch down to the Indiana side of the floor.
After a win as dominant as this one, the Pacers can focus on the defensive end, as they usually do, heading into Game 4 on Saturday afternoon.
They can either continue to stay home on shooters as Hibbert patrols the paint to stop penetration, allowing Davis to hit his jumpers off pick-and-pop plays, or they can revamp things in an effort to limit the eccentric big man.
Going with the former is the safer bet because Davis is unlikely to replicate his hot shooting in the near future. As the series has progressed he has tired out quicker and quicker, which doesn’t bode well for the Magic going forward.