Granger saving his best for last

April 5, 2012-- The whole idea of building a deep, balanced roster is to make the team less reliant on any one player. Which is another way of saying Danny Granger doesn't have to score 20 points every night for the Pacers to win.

Then again …

The team's late-season surge and his coincide but it is hardly coincidence.

In the last 11 games, the Pacers have gone 8-3, while Granger has averaged 21.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and shot .497 overall and .563 from the 3-point line.

In the last five, they've gone 4-1 and Granger has averaged 24.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and shot .553 overall and .640 from the arc.

"He's playing at a high level," Coach Frank Vogel said. "He's playing his best basketball of the season right now. He's dialed in to finishing strong and going on a serious run like we know that we can do.

"When your best player is dialed in on that level it just elevates the play of everyone else around him. He's a gamer. He knows this is the crunch time of the season and every game is critical in terms of the standings and he's just bringing it."

The Pacers are 19-4 when he scores at least 20 points, which of course means they are 14-17 when he does not. That defines a team that may not literally need a big game from Granger to win but certainly improves its odds when he provides.

"It makes the game that much easier," Paul George said. "When Danny's hot, it's really just playing your role at that point. You've got to get Danny the ball when he's hot. He's capable of putting up points in bunches and all we've got to do is defend, rebound and really just take care of the ball."

This otherwise has been a pedestrian season for Granger. His scoring (18.4) and rebounding (4.8) averages are the lowest since his second season. His field goal percentage (.412) is the lowest of his career. He is averaging the fewest minutes (33.1) since his rookie year.

All that is changing lately. With the team entering the stretch run to the playoffs, battling for the third seed in the Eastern Conference, Granger has been at his best. In consecutive hard-fought victories over the Rockets and Knicks, he racked up 27 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Pacers rallied from 10 down in the fourth to beat Houston, and 15 down in the fourth to beat New York.

"Playoff time," Granger said. "We need momentum going into these playoffs. For the first time in years we have a really good team, we can make a lot of noise, so we really have to hit our stride right now."

Therein lies the heart of Granger's resurgence.

The best individual seasons of his career were some of the worst in recent franchise history. From 2007-11 he averaged 22.3 points, but the team averaged 35 victories.

Vogel's decision to shift the offensive focus from the perimeter to the post meant a major adjustment for Granger, mentally and technically. It may have taken him awhile to adapt to a system that requires him to give the ball up in order to get it back.

This season's compressed schedule also is toughest on jump-shooters, who suffer the most when legs are weary.

Granger has found his comfort zone and his stride at an opportune time.

"I think it's just a matter of him coming around," Vogel said. "I think he's putting a little extra emphasis on making sure he's getting his rest. The games are bigger this time of year, this is a critical stretch, and he's a big-game player. I think his focus is there and that's a good thing."

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