INDIANAPOLIS – Fresh from his first NBA start, Indiana Pacers forward Josh McRoberts’ words in a sense made sense.
McRoberts, whose first start coincided perhaps not coincidentally with the Pacers’ first victory in a little more than two weeks – a time that perhaps seemed longer than it was – spoke afterward of needing to make some changes considering his situation.
Because he could be playing more than in the first two months of the season, McRoberts spoke following the Pacers’ 122-111 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday of needing perhaps to ease back in certain areas.
“I’ve got to quit chasing every loose ball and going after every rebound,” McRoberts said, “because I’m playing more games and longer in the games.
“I have to learn to pace myself better.”
This makes logical sense, and perhaps he’s right. But at the same time, while a pretty strong argument could be made that McRoberts’ presence early had a lot to do with the Pacers establishing a big first-half lead they never quite relinquished, at the same time that argument is based on exactly those things McRoberts mentioned.
Because early on Saturday, McRoberts seemed to go after every loose ball.
And he went after every rebound.
And while he didn’t get them all, and while there were a lot more factors that allowed the Pacers to end their season-high eight-game losing streak at Conseco Fieldhouse Sunday, McRoberts seemed to be a big factor toward setting the tone for the Pacers early.
McRoberts, a 6-feet-10, second-year forward from Duke, had four rebounds, three points – on a 3-point field goal – and a blocked shot in the first quarter, but it seemed he did more than that.
Maybe it was because he really seemed like he wanted to be out there.
And as a result, he played with an energy the Pacers seemed to need. Certainly, the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd appreciated it, cheering McRoberts a bit more earnestly than they did most of the Pacers players Saturday, and this was a night when more Pacers than normal deserved cheering.
McRoberts’ early effort was part of an unexpectedly quick start for the Pacers (10-22), who led by 29 points three times in the second quarter and entered halftime leading by 28 points.
“The tempo and the ball movement got us the lead,” Pacers Head Coach Jim O’Brien said. “Seventy-three points is a great tempo. We got a lot of contributions from a lot of people.”
Mike Dunleavy, after entering the game off one of the worst shooting stretches of his career, appeared fresh and strong early. After shooting 14 of 62 (22.5 percent) in the previous seven games, he shot 5 of 9 in the first half and had all 15 of his points at halftime.
And with All-Star swingman Danny Granger still out indefinitely, and with forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Troy Murphy and center Greg Foster also out, center Roy Hibbert scored 21 points and guard Luther Head also had 21 points.
Brandon Rush scored all 16 points off the bench in the first three quarters and Earl Watson had 12 points.
Indiana had lost 19 of 23 games after an early-season five-game winning streak.
“We haven’t had this feeling in a long time,” Hibbert said. “It’s real nice to get this win, but we have to build on this feeling. . . . We came out with good energy, didn’t have to dig ourselves out of a deep hole. We were having fun and playing good basketball.”
The Timberwolves cut the lead to 98-85 entering the fourth quarter, then outscored Indiana 26-17 to cut the lead to four when forward Kevin Love converted a 3-point play to make it 115-111 with 52.9 seconds remaining.
On the next possession, Earl Watson converted a reverse layup as he was fouled, and after making the free throw the Pacers led by seven with 33 seconds remaining.
“I felt the contact, but he didn’t wrap me up, so I was trying to get the ‘and one,’ ” Watson said. “We became stagnant on offense, but we stayed together. We didn’t panic.”
As a result, the Pacers hung on for a victory that has been rarer than anyone around the Pacers expected this season. Then again, there has been a lot around the Pacers no one expected this season. More injuries and a whole lot more new faces in the lineup.
O’Brien as a result has been forced to juggle lineups far more than he expected, and on Saturday, he found one that worked.
It’s obviously reaching way out to credit the lineup change entirely with the victory. The Timberwolves are struggling this season as much as the Pacers, and they very nearly erased all of the 29-point deficit to hand the Pacers a brutally difficult loss.
But that didn’t happen. The Pacers hung on and as a result, it’s possible to focus on a dominant, energetic performance by the Pacers early. That performance wasn’t dominated by McRoberts, but McRoberts somehow seemed to define it. What defined it wasn’t seven points, or even eight rebounds, or two steals or two blocked shots.
What defined it was giving everything on every play. Now may not be the time to stop.