A Total Team Effort

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by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

October 31, 2012

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Opening games are just one of 82 for NBA teams, and usually not one of the better 82.

If what happened in Toronto Wednesday night is a prelude of what lies ahead for the Pacers, however, it's going to be an interesting season.

The collective effort that will have to be their calling card was flashed to every one of the fans on hand at Air Canada Centre in their 90-88 victory, and stuffed down the collective throat of the improved Raptors, who led by six points with 3 1/2 minutes left and were outscored 16-4 down the stretch.

Paul George and Roy Hibbert got the Pacers started, David West dominated late, George Hill capped it off with a game-winning basket, and the bench kicked in now and then as well. Despite 18 turnovers, defensive lapses and perhaps with a boost from a favorable late call, it qualified as a total team effort.

All conversation should start with West, whose game and demeanor is as manly as anyone donning a Pacers uniform since, who? Mel Daniels, maybe?

"This victory is squarely on his shoulders because of the way he carried us," coach Frank Vogel said.

West finished with 25 points, 21 in the second half and 14 in the fourth quarter when he picked up his floundering teammates, dusted them off, and dragged them to the finish line. West went one-on-one throughout much of the final period, scoring off post-ups and mid-range jumpers. He also contributed the game's biggest assist and finally made possible Hill's game-winner by his mere presence.

West's pass to Hill in the right corner brought the Pacers within three points, with 3:16 left. He hit a bank shot off a one-on-one move on their next possession to make it a one-point game, then hit a jumper to regain a one-point deficit with 1:21 remaining.

George Hill, grimacing through the final few minutes after aggravating the hip pointer that contributed to his absence in all seven preseason games, hit one-of-two foul shots with 59.5 seconds left to tie the game. West hit Hill in the right corner for another three-point attempt following a Toronto miss. This one missed, but the Pacers were awarded possession after Gerald Green and a Raptor or two all appeared to bat at the ball. The replay was inconclusive, preventing an overturn.

With Hill running the clock down to the final seconds, West screened for him at the top of the key. The defense trending toward West, leaving Hill open to hit a floater in the lane with 2.1 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner. It was a figurative assist for West, invisible in the box score but invaluable in the victory.

West's cleanup project made up for a game that was growing increasingly sloppy for the Pacers, who were often out of sync with one another (18 turnovers) and outhustled by the Raptors.

"We were a step sluggish for 30-some odd minutes," West said in his post-game on-court interview with Pacers sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam. "We have to play harder than everybody we play against, that's the bottom line."

West was a non-factor early after picking up two quick fouls, but wasn't needed. George backed up his training camp promise to be more aggressive by taking the ball to the basket for the Pacers' first two baskets, and scored 10 of their first 23 points. Hibbert, meanwhile, dominated in the lane against Raptors' rookie Jonas Valanciunas. Hibbert scored 14 points in the half and George 12, but George's driving layup off a rebound of his own miss early in the third quarter was the only points either of them scored in the second half.

Still, their bottom lines were fine. George finished with a career-high 15 rebounds, while Hibbert had nine rebounds and five blocks.

Gerald Green started in place of Danny Granger, and might do so for a long time, depending on the ultimate meaning of "indefinite." Granger's knee condition is a mystery—probably even to him—following Tuesday's announcement that he would miss the start of the season. That could give Green the best opportunity of his career, now entering its sixth season.

He disappeared after hitting two early three-pointers, but all five reserves—Tyler Hansbrough (eight points), D.J. Augustin and Lance Stephenson (five points each), Sam Young (four points and three rebounds) and Ian Manhimi (five rebounds) found ways to contribute.

That's how it's going to have to be all season if the Pacers are to contend in the Eastern Conference. Nobody appears capable of carrying the load for long stretches, and it will be difficult for West to do the dirty work around the basket when Hibbert is on the floor.

It's a balanced, versatile and deep collection. One game into the grind, that's a winning formula.

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