INDIANAPOLIS -- Over the first six quarters, this was the Orlando Magic's series. It was played at their tempo, and all too often, the heavily favored Indiana Pacers looked as if they were overwhelmed by the situation. They had surrendered an 11-0 run over the final four minutes in their Game 1 loss, and by the time the first half ended Monday, you had to wonder whether Indy wasn’t on the ropes. The Pacers trailed by two after allowing 22 second-chance points to a Magic team that had averaged fewer than 13 per game in the regular season. Boos were raining down from the crowd in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
What a difference a halftime makes.
Early in the third quarter, the Pacers' predicted dominance of the supposedly weaker Magic finally made an extended appearance. Indiana outscored Orlando 30-13 in the quarter on its way to a 93-78 win that evened the series at one game apiece.
“A terrific win for our club,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "A gutsy, playoff win."
This was a must-win for Indiana. No team can afford to go on the road already down 2-0. The more subtle truth is that this game -- this series -- is really on-the-job training for a young, untested team. In this series, the Pacers are not only learning how to win in the playoffs, they're still getting comfortable as a team.
“I thought tonight, we were more of ourselves in terms of the tempo we played, the aggressive level of each individual guy," said David West, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
And if you look at the series, you can see a progression. The only consistent evidence of the Pacers’ predicted superiority is at the defensive end. Over the eight quarters, Indy has allowed more than 97 points per 100 possessions only once, in the second quarter of Game 1.
The Pacers have been especially dominant after halftime, allowing only 30 and 34 points, respectively, in the two games. According to NBA.com, Indiana is holding Orlando to a stunning 62 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter.
On Monday, the Pacers added some offensive punch. “We finally began to start executing what we’re looking for offensively in terms of running, sharing the basketball [and] seeing inside-out action,” Vogel said of the Pacers' second-half offense.
Normally, the goal of the lower seed in any playoff series is to steal one of the first two games. In that respect, Orlando’s visit was successful. But somehow, it doesn’t quite feel that way.
“I’m just not happy with the way we played tonight,” Stan Van Gundy said, when asked if he was content with a 1-1 split. “No, I’m not. We got absolutely dominated by their effort and energy in the second half, and I’m not happy. Not at all.”
Overall, Van Gundy expressed frustration with his starters -- especially their third-quarter performances. “Our starters are coming out of the locker room with nothing in terms of energy. We’re going to talk about that. They’re absolutely bringing nothing to the game at the start of the third quarter. Nothing,” he said.
This was just one game, and, as Pacers guard Leandro Barbosa said, “[The] playoffs are about seven games. When we leave this locker room, we’ve got to forget about this game and get better for the next one.”
But while it’s true that the series will start over Wednesday, the Pacers began to push things back in a much more favorable direction. More importantly, Indiana believes it still hasn't played up to its normal standard.
Orlando still has home-court advantage, but the Pacers were 19-14 on the road this season -- the fourth-best mark away from home in the league. The on-the-job training for Indy continues Wednesday night, but if the Pacers continue to show the steady upward learning curve, they have the opportunity to wrest back control.
Tim Donahue covers the Pacers for 8 Points, 9 Seconds, part of the TrueHoop Network.