Derrick Rose’s ACL tear and Miami’s blowout on the Knicks were big headlines today, but the Indiana Pacers losing Game 1 at home to the Howard-less Magic should make its own major headlines. I predicted the Pacers would sweep, but Stan Van Gundy and the Magic had other plans. After listening to how guaranteed Indiana’s victory was over the past few days, it’s no surprise Orlando came out fired up. They’ve had a tumultuous season dealing with Dwight Howard’s melodrama and the disunity between him and their coach, but with Howard out, this team has galvanized and now play for each other. Which is probably a big reason why they rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 81-77.
But the biggest reason the Magic won is that the Pacers looked like they took this game, and possibly even the whole series, for granted. Indiana was outscored 11-0 in the game’s final minutes and they blew their lead and the game. Nobody could hit a shot, the offense went stagnant and they left shooters like Jason Richardson wide open. But worst of all was Danny Granger completely falling apart. I picked Granger as a top player to watch in the playoffs this year as he became the driving force behind a hot Pacers squad. But when his team needed him most, he not only disappeared, he actually made them worse. He couldn’t get shots close to the rim to go, he missed two critical free throws, he had two terrible turnovers at the worst possible times (a backcourt violation and a travel with the game on the line) and none of this would have been completely terrible if he didn’t look completely timid and indecisive the whole time. Granger turned into a deer in the headlights during the entire fourth quarter, especially when Orlando started to make its run.
The Pacers need Granger to score more than 17 points a game, especially when Leandro Barbosa and Roy Hibbert score a combined 11 points. Hibbert has a ridiculous size advantage on Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson, so scoring 8 points is absolutely pathetic, especially when you throw in the fact that Davis pushed him around all game and the Pacers barely won the rebound battle, 35-34. Hibbert absolutely needs to regroup and come out with a vengeance in Game 2, regardless of his 9 blocks. In fact, David West is the only player on the Pacers who looked okay, but he disappeared down the stretch too. Paul George missed critical wide open 3-pointers down the stretch and George Hill didn’t have much of an impact after looking so impressive when he was moved into the starting lineup. But even with everyone else disappearing, the majority of the blame should still be placed on Danny Granger for this awful performance. Until Granger learns how to take control and be a crunch-time player in close games, the Pacers will never be the dark horse in the East they could be.
Granted, the Magic did have to play exceptionally well to get the win. Jason Richardson hit five 3-pointers, which doesn’t happen every day. The entire Pacers team had to completely collapse and miss all of their shots over the last few minutes for Orlando to have a chance to come back. And while Orlando’s heart in playing for each other and for their coach to defy everyone’s expectations is inspiring, I can’t say with certainty that this team can play at this level over the course of a seven-game series. The Pacers shot 34.5 percent from the floor and finished with 77 points. The Magic only scored 81 points. This was Indiana’s game to lose and they lost it in extremely underwhelming fashion. But I don’t think any of these things will happen again. So even though my prediction that the Pacers would sweep looks pretty bad right now, I’m still picking Indiana to win the series in 5 or 6 games. But they’re definitely on upset alert right now.