The Indiana Pacers gave new interim coach Frank Vogel his first professional victory last night at Conseco Fieldhouse as they turned back the Toronto Raptors by a score of 104-93, albeit in a fashion that looked eerily familiar to those of us who have watched this team all season.
For awhile, it indeed looked like a new team, one filled with energy and enthusiasm, as they raced out to a 20 point lead. But then the Pacers that we have come to scratch our head over reared their head, and all of a sudden with a ton of turnovers and several empty offensive possessions, they had allowed the visitors from Canada to tie the ball game and send visions of another game that got away through the sparse crowd that braved the elements to attend. But the Pacers would regroup on this first night of the Vogel era and outplay the Raptors down the stretch to secure the victory and leave their new coach both humbled and proud in the post game press conference.
“I am relieved we won” cited Vogel afterwards. “I do feel we are capable of playing at a much higher level, but even though we did not play great, we still won.”
Roy Hibbert, who I have been very critical of lately, led Indiana with 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, with five of those caroms coming on the offensive glass. Darren Collison added 16 points for Indiana and handed out 6 assists to offset the 6 (mostly unforced) turnovers he committed. Rookie Paul George, who played the entire fourth quarter, added 10 for Indiana. Toronto, who demonstrated superb offensive balance by placing seven players in double figures, was led by Amir Johnson who scored 18 points.
Notes: Indiana out rebounded Toronto by a count of 56 to 38.
Danny Granger grabbed 9 rebounds and Jeff Foster contributed 8.
The Pacers committed a ghastly 25 turnovers, which led to 23 Toronto points.
The Raptors had 46 points in the paint, while also committing 16 turnovers.
Speaking of those who braved the elements, the Pacers announced an attendance of 10,258, when there might have been 5,000 people total in the building. While it is normal for NBA teams to use a paid attendance figure than the actual number in the stands, it is really ridiculous to do such.
Regardless, hats off to the die-hard fans who came out to support the team.
Pacers President Larry Bird watched from the stands and as usual, he looked emotionless and stoic. One particular comment that Bird made last Sunday in the press conference in which he announced the releasing of former coach Jim O’Brien is still stuck in my crawl. Bird stated that he would like to see Lance Stephenson get an opportunity to play. I have spoken to numerous sources in the Pacers organization, in the past, who have said all along that Stephenson could practice and will of course be paid by the terms of his guaranteed contract, but would not be allowed to play until the pending criminal charges hanging over him are resolved. Those same sources confided that Indiana would likely release Stephenson if he is convicted and eat the money he is due to reemphasize that any conduct of that nature will not be tolerated. If that is the case, why did Bird say that, and was he trying to imply O’Brien would not play Stephenson and perhaps interim coach Frank Vogel will?
Something certainly does not pass the sniff test here all of a sudden, and while I fully believe Stephenson is entitled to due process, I am totally befuddled by Bird’s reference to him playing now, if indeed the organization is committed to allowing the matter to play out in court and then make a permanent decision on Stephenson’s future. If he is convicted, the decision will be easy, but in my opinion, Bird certainly placed an unnecessary spotlight on an ugly situation.
The Pacers now travel to Cleveland Wednesday to face the Cavaliers and then return home on Feb. 4 to host the Portland Trailblazers. Both games can be seen on Fox Sports Indiana and heard on WIBC 93.1.
Danny Bridges, who respects Frank Vogel for calling Jim O’Brien a friend and a mentor, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com