INDIANAPOLIS — The Pacers figured the best way to prevent from blowing a close game is by not playing a close game.
And so common sense has crept back into the Pacers-Magic series after a brief yet bombastic stretch late in the opener, when the Pacers grabbed their throats and the Magic grabbed a 1-0 lead.
Suddenly, after a 93-78 victory, the Pacers are back to being a semi-dangerous title threat when they share the ball and play terrific defense and close out strong, all of which happened on a satisfying night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The third quarter was divine for Indiana, clearly their best 12-minute stretch of playoff basketball this season. They outscored Orlando 30-13, outrebounded the Magic 16-4 and forced six turnovers. Ballgame, basically. All they had to do was hold on, and that was no problem against an overmatched Orlando team that finally ran out of effort.
If the Pacers can bottle up whatever worked in that third quarter, they would resemble the team that beat all the title threats during the regular season and finished No. 3 in the East. And yet they’ve looked anything but sturdy and confident against an Orlando team playing without Dwight Howard.
In addition, the best player on the floor has been Howard’s replacement, Big Baby Davis, who once again looked like a power drill, blowing through the Indiana defense for offensive rebounds and layups. While George Hill, Danny Granger and David West all scored 18 points each, they also all had shaky moments. And collectively, the Pacers didn’t shoot well, only 43 percent.
At least they know what’s the problem.
“We haven’t played with our usual intensity,” said Hill. “That first game took us by surprise and so we had to increase our effort.”
With the series shifting to Orlando, they need to pack that third quarter in their suitcases. Because the Magic clearly aren’t packing it in.