Pacers Restore Order, with Granger Leading the Way

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

February 3, 2014 | 11:45 p.m.

Order has been restored in the land of the Pacers, for the moment at least.

After bolting out of the gate to a 33-7 start to the 2013-14 season, the Pacers stumbled over a six-game stretch in which they lost three and became uncharacteristically porous on defense – allowing opponents to top 100 points against them in four of those six contests after allowing 100 or more only six times in the previous 40 games.

Indiana also became extremely sloppy with the basketball on offense, culminating in a 24-turnover game against the Nets on Saturday that they hung on to win, 97-96.

And while Monday night’s 98-79 win over the Orlando Magic was, well, a win over the Orlando Magic (3-23 on the road this season), it served as a stop-gap of sorts to the worst stretch of basketball the Pacers had played all season.

In the 19-point rout, Indiana held Orlando to 39.8 percent shooting and outrebounded the Magic 52-38. That sounds about right.

The Pacers also played a much cleaner game on offense – though they only shot 42 percent – turning the ball over only nine times, leading to nine points for Orlando after giving away 36 points off turnovers against Brooklyn.

“Coach got mad at us,” said Lance Stephenson. “He told us we’ve got to take care of the ball and right now our goal is to get under ten turnovers a night and we did that tonight.”

Frank Vogel got mad. The Pacers responded.

“[The message at practice was] don’t turn the ball over and take better shots,” said C.J. Watson, who had 12 points off the bench for Indiana Monday. “Make the extra pass and if you drive, kick it to someone else who has a better shot than you.”

David West captioned Monday’s effort as the result of a more patient and deliberate Pacers squad.

“I thought we just played under control,” West said. “We still had some spotty moments there, but I thought for the most part we took care of what we needed to take care of. We were focused and moved the ball. We didn’t shoot the ball great, but we gave ourselves opportunities to capitalize, particularly when we got stops on the defensive end.”

Perhaps the brightest development on this night came courtesy of Danny Granger, who restored order somewhat in his own right by leading the team with a season-high 16 points on 3-of-5 shooting in 25 minutes on the floor. It was the first time Granger – who missed all but five games last season due to a knee injury and the first seven weeks of this season with a strained calf – scored more than 15 points in a game since May 20, 2012. That was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat.

“I’m continuing to get my legs under me, continuing to get my rhythm,” Granger said. “We moved the ball a lot more tonight, and I’ve always played better off of movement and screens. Frank called some plays not just for me, but just to get us moving more and I always thrive in that type of offense.”

Granger’s teammates knew this was coming and, needless to say, are excited about how Granger will look and feel come playoff time.

“He’s working his way back,” West said. “It’s going to be huge for us down the stretch. He’s just got to continue to grow and improve every day. It’s going to take time – he missed a whole year. So it’s good for him to have a game like this where he can get his legs under him. We’ve been saying that it’s coming. He’ll continue to get himself going.”

“He’s getting his legs back,” said Stephenson. “He’s looking good, man. He’s being confident, he’s being aggressive every night, and if he brings that every night, we’re going to be great.”

If Granger can make the Pacers that much better now, imagine what the possibilities are for, say, a seven-game series against the Heat in early June.

“It feels good to know he’ll be with us in the playoffs,” Stephenson added. “We need somebody like that, that can score at will with the second unit, and know that he’s going to hit the open shot. So he’s definitely going to help us in the long stretch.”

For Granger, it has to feel good to have a night reminiscent of what the Danny Granger of old had on a regular basis for the Pacers, when he was the team’s leading scorer for five consecutive seasons before his injury nightmare began.

Watching the only team he’s known since breaking into the NBA in 2005 come within one game of reaching the NBA Finals and explode into the national basketball consciousness had to be excruciatingly bittersweet.

“I’m thrilled,” Granger said. “I’m still climbing to where I was, but I’m thrilled to be able to say I’m doing that. And I’m happy to be playing again, because I sat for a long time.”

As Granger got to that last part – “I sat for a long time” – it sounded more like “I sat for a looong time” and the tone of his voice gave the listener a small glimpse into the anguish and frustration that No. 33 felt as he found himself in a suit on the bench next to his uniformed teammates for over a year.

There’s been much speculation about what the future holds for Granger, given his injury history and the personnel choices Indiana will inevitably have to make come the offseason. But if he continues his climb with more nights like the one he had Monday, it could be the difference the Pacers are looking for come June.

“I had to watch the playoffs last year,” Granger said. “This year, I can be a part of it. I’m thrilled about that.”

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