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Pacers take big step toward playoff berth
By Conrad Brunner
They may not have much postseason experience but the Pacers are becoming accustomed to winning playoff-type games.
Against a Milwaukee team desperately trying to keep its hopes alives, the Pacers saw a 14-point lead shrink to one in the fourth quarter but Roy Hibbert's dunk gave them an 89-86 lead that wasn't secure until Drew Gooden clanged a 3-pointer at the buzzer, allowing Indiana to escape with an 89-88 victory Friday before 11,177 in Conseco Fieldhouse.
Coupled with Charlotte's 89-77 loss in Orlando, the victory reduced the Pacers' magic number for clinching their first playoff berth in five years to a mere four. Indiana has a two-game lead over Charlotte and a four-game lead over the Bucks and holds the tie-breaker over both.
Danny Granger led the Pacers with 17 points, while Brandon Jennings scored 20 for Milwaukee.
The Pacers won their third straight to improve to 35-42 overall, 22-16 at home and 18-15 under interim coach Frank Vogel. Though they split the season series with the Bucks, they earned the tie-breaker by virtue of a better record against Central Division teams (9-7 to Milwaukee's 5-9). The Bucks lost for the third time in four games and fell to 30-45 overall, 11-26 on the road.
- "You learn a lot about your guys when you have a high stakes game like tonight. I’m very proud of our defensive effort. It was a great effort by our guys. We have a confident bunch defensively. They know when it’s on the line they can get stops and they proved it tonight." -- Vogel
- "We are a step closer and we control out own destiny. We’re playing pretty well right now, but we still have a lot of work to do to hopefully get into the playoffs. We were able to stop a run and pull off this victory. We are close to locking our goal, but we are not there yet." -- Granger
- "Physically I feel I am in great health, no knocks or bruises and I’m ready to roll in the playoff run." -- Brandon Rush
- "We’d like a better look than that. They did a nice job of defending. We weren’t supposed to exactly pop out there and end up with that one. But it’s the shot we got and we just didn’t make it." -- Bucks coach Scott Skiles on the last shot
- "This game was a microcosm of our season, spending all year trying to catch the Indiana Pacers in the standings and trying to catch them in tonight’s game and we fell one point short." -- Gooden
STAT OF THE GAME
After falling behind 26-15 early in the second quarter, the Pacers outscored the Bucks 37-13 over the next 12 minutes to take a 52-39 lead early in the third quarter.
Rush and Granger keyed the Pacers' first big move, combining for 13 points in a 15-2 run early in the second quarter that wiped out an 11-point deficit. The Pacers then put together a 15-3 run spanning intermission to take a 52-39 lead in the opening minutes of the second half.
It was 67-53 late in the third when the Bucks began chipping away with a 16-6 burst fueled by a pair of 3-pointers from Keyon Dooling, cutting the lead to 73-69 with 9:13 left and setting up the nail-biting finish.
The Pacers never gave up the lead but they were challenged time and again. After John Salmons hit a tough jumper to cut it to 87-86, Hibbert spun free in the post and dunked with 1:06 left to make it a three-point game. Salmons hit another jumper to cut it to one with 26.7 seconds left.
Indiana then ran down the clock on an isolation for Collison, whose driving floater in the lane was off the back iron and the Bucks controlled the rebound and called timeout with 2.3 seconds left to set up the final shot.
The Pacers denied Salmons, the intended target for the play, and the ball instead went to Gooden beyond the top of the key and his harried 3-pointer wasn't close.
BY THE NUMBERS
Granger shot 5-of-13, made all six of his free throws and added five rebounds and three assists to his 17. Hibbert had his 19th double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, adding four blocked shots. Rush had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting off the bench. Collison had 11 points and seven assists and Tyler Hansbrough had 11 points and seven rebounds. The Pacers shot 46.2 percent, dominated the board 47-39 and committed just four turnovers in the final three periods after opening with nine.
Jennings shot 8-of-18 and had seven rebounds but just three assists to complement his 20 points for the Bucks. Andrew Bogut, who was hospitalized Friday to receive intravenous fluids due to a stomach ailment, had 16 points and six rebounds. Corey Maggette had 13 off the bench and Luc Mbah a Moute had 10. The Bucks shot .425 overall but were 13-of-20 in the fourth quarter.
- Tonight's win ends the Bucks' three-game winning streak at Conseco Fieldhouse and evens the 2010-11 season series with Milwaukee at two games apiece. The Pacers have lost a season series outright to the Bucks just once (2009-10) in the last nine seasons
- Matching their fewest turnovers of the last eight games with 13 tonight, the Pacers had just four after their game-high nine in the first period. The Bucks scored just four points off turnovers in the last three periods, after scoring 10 in the opening 12 minutes.
- The Pacers' 89 points tonight are their fewest in a win this season.
- In his last three games, Darren Collison has averaged 19.0 ppg and shot 22-29 from the floor (.759).
- In his last four games, Brandon Rush has shot 10-20 from 3-pt range (.500) and averaged 11.8 ppg.
The Pacers play their final game against Western Conference competition on Sunday in New Orleans against Chris Paul and the Hornets (7 p.m., Fox Sports Indiana, NBA TV, WIBC 93 FM).