Two of the more surprising teams in the NBA this season have been the Indiana Pacers and the Utah Jazz. The Pacers snuck into the eight seed in the playoffs last year despite a losing record, and then added David West in the offseason, so there were some mildly elevated expectations beginning the season. Still, few expected them to challenge for a top four berth in the East, which is exactly where they are now. Meanwhile, the Jazz fell apart down the stretch last season in the aftermath of the trade of Deron Williams and retirement of Jerry Sloan, and most expected a rebuilding season at best in Utah this year. Yet they've been in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race the whole time.
These two overachievers met in Indianapolis Tuesday night, and the game did not disappoint, with the Pacers coming away with a narrow 104-99 victory. Indiana built a solid lead in the early going, and led by 11 at halftime. An early second half run stretched the lead all the way to 21, and it looked like the home team might run away with this one. But Utah, mostly on the strength of their bench, immediately began the process of erasing that deficit.
Over the course of the next 12 minutes or so, the Jazz outscored the Pacers 35-13, eventually taking the lead at 85-84 with seven and a half minutes left. How would the Pacers respond, after blowing a 21-point lead?
Enter Danny Granger. Indiana's leading scorer, highest-paid player and a former All-Star, Granger had been terrible through three quarters with just four points on 1-8 shooting. But in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, he scored 12 of Indiana's 20 points, making five of his six field goal attempts. Why had it taken Granger so long to get his game going, to wake up, as it were? Turns out, he'd taken some medication to help him sleep the night before, and was still feeling the effects through the beginning of the game. It wore off just in time. His jumper with 25 seconds left was the shot of the game, giving the Pacers a five-point lead that held up to the end.
Statistically, the game could not have been much closer. Both teams shot 47 percent from the field. Both teams made four three-pointers. Utah took 23 free throws, Indiana 22. Utah enjoyed a slight rebounding advantage, 43 to 37. So how did Indiana win? By taking care of the ball. The Pacers turned the ball over half as much the Jazz, eight to 16. Those extra possessions resulted in the extra field goal attempts that were ultimately the difference.
Darren Collison led a balanced Indiana attack with 25 points. Roy Hibbert (17), Granger (16) and Paul George scored in double figures as well. Six Jazz players reached double figures, led by Paul Millsap with 18 and All Jefferson with 16.
The win brings Indiana's record to 17-7, 7-2 at home. Utah drops to 13-11, but a miserable 2-7 on the road.