Come again? Did I really see that? Did Gerald Green, of all people, rescue the Pacers from an embarrassing collapse against the Atlanta Hawks. Yes and yes.
The Indiana Pacers were probably the most short-handed they've been all season tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. David West missed another game with his lower back strain, while Danny Granger is still out with that knee problem that refuses to go away. On top of that, starting point guard George Hill was out with a left groin problem, and starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson sat out with a right hip-flexor injury. So that's three of the Pacers' ordinary starters.
Never fear. Jeff Pendergraph and Orlando Johnson went absolutely nuts in the first half as the Pacers refused to miss en route to a 15-point lead at the break (that really should have been 20+). The dynamic duo finished with 14 and 15, respectively.
Big Roy Hibbert had another solid game with 17, 13 and 3 blocks, while Paul George had 13, 6 and 4 but had 6 turnovers. Even though he seemingly toyed with the Hawks' defense at times, PG24's turnover problem is getting really really bad. Careless passes and a lot of overdribbling by a guy who's not really that great at handling the ball (despite his offseason improvement). He needs to rein that in before the playoffs.
Oh yes, the hero, Gerald Green, who had a relatively quiet game up until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Green started tonight and didn't do a whole lot except for a alley-oop lay-up off a ridiculous pass that should have sailed into the stands but for Green's inhuman jumping ability.
Anyway, the Pacers had a 22-point lead heading into the fourth and appeared to be coasting to another blowout victory, but they got complacent and the Hawks fought back with a furious rally, closing within 4 points with just over a minute to go.
Green would then make a huge three pointer to pull the lead back out to 7, and then hit 3 of 4 free throws to seal the deal. The biggest play was probably when he stole the ball from Ivan Johnson with just 11 seconds to go. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 6-10 shooting and had 6 rebounds. Nice one.
With the victory, the Pacers edge back in front of the Knicks for second place in the East, though I must say things are not looking great with the injury bug biting at the wrong time of the year. I am hoping that Frank Vogel and the team staff are just being cautious.
A huge stretch coming up, starting with road games against the Rockets, Dallas, Phoenix and the Clippers, then home against Oklahoma City before going on the road against the Wizards, who are rejuvenated by the return of John Wall, who just put up 47 on the Grizzlies tonight. Is 3 out of 6 during this stretch too much to ask?