“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
For both the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic, the first two games of their first round series have been the best of times and the worst of times. In Game 1, Indiana saw a late seven point lead evaporate as the Magic closed the game with a furious 11-0 run to steal an 81-77 victory. Game 2 however, was a different story. From the opening tip, Indiana did exactly what they needed to do and punched Orlando square in the mouth taking an early 22-12 lead. Though Orlando took two point lead into halftime, the Pacers blew the game open in the third outscoring the Magic 30-13 in the quarter. The Pacers avoided a second consecutive late game collapse and cruised to a 93-78 victory. So what were the biggest differences between Games 1 and 2 for the Pacers?
1. The Georges
Paul George and George Hill both rebounded from disappointing efforts in Game 1 with strong, needed Game 2 performances. Let’s begin with Paul George.
George was having an extremely difficult time buying a bucket in Game 1 as he finished 4-11 from the floor including 0-4 from beyond the arc. Tonight, he was a tidy 7-10 from the field. However, it wasn’t so much that he was shooting better as it was that he was getting to the rim and converting shots from close range. Of the seven field goals he made, six of them came in the restricted area. It’s concerning that George is shooting 2-10 from outside the paint thus far in the series, but if he can consistently get to the rim and continue to convert, it is going to make things much easier for the Pacers.
George Hill followed a similar path to that of George in the first two games. In Game 1, he converted only two of seven shots from the field. Tonight, for the second game in a row, he finished 1-3 from three point range, but like George, got into the paint much more effectively by going 4-5 in the key. By getting into the paint, and knowing that Dwight Howard will not be controlling it for the duration of the series, the Pacers increase the likelihood for fouls on Orlando’s already thin front line which should prove to be beneficial moving forward.
2. Limiting Rebounds
Not only was this a tale of two games for the Pacers, it was really a tale of two halves. The Magic seemingly were getting their hands on every offensive rebound in the first half tonight, finishing the first 24 minutes of the game with 12 offensive boards. In the second half, they were limited to just one offensive rebound, and 13 rebounds overall for the entire half. Meanwhile, the Pacers flipped the script by pulling down 11 offensive rebounds of their own in the final half of the game. Although the Magic ultimately finished with a slight edge in second chance points (25-24), only two of those points were scored after halftime which allowed Indiana to pull away.
3. Fast Breaks
The common perception is that playoff games are played at a slower pace than regular season games. Defenses clamp down, teams tend to play more conservative, and it is rare to see a team frequently get out on the break. While watching tonight, it seemed like the Pacers were getting a lot of easy baskets off of turnovers and in transition; luckily, my eyes were not deceiving me as the statistics back it up. Indiana finished the game with a stunning 22-2 fast break advantage tonight, a far cry from Game 1 where both teams only managed five points each. By getting out and converting easy baskets, the Pacers simultaneously energized the home crowd (providing an emotional lift) and extended their lead to the point that there would be no comeback tonight.
This is the result that a lot of people, myself included, expected to see in this series. The Pacers have proven that they can compete with anyone in the league, and the Magic entered the playoffs in absolute shambles. It’s not clear whether Indiana underestimated Orlando in Game 1, were not prepared for the bright playoff lights, or simply collapsed, but Game 2 was a totally different story. For Orlando, you have to be encouraged that you managed a split on the road and have this series heading back to Florida this week. For the Pacers, you have to take solace in the fact that Danny Granger really has not gotten going in this series (11-34 FG thus far) and you still pulled out a win. And since each team has tasted victory, both feel like they are capable of winning this series. Or, as Charles Dickens would say, they both have Great Expectations.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com.