INDIANAPOLIS — The challenge before the Indiana Pacers wasn’t about game plans, execution or matchups.
It was simply about toughness.
An Orlando team without its top rebounder, injured All-Star center Dwight Howard, dominated the boards in the first half to take a two-point lead. The heavily favored Pacers stewed in their locker room as they faced the possibility of taking a two-game deficit to Orlando for Game 3 on Wednesday.
“No one liked the way we were playing,” Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough said. “I didn’t think we were playing with energy or aggressive enough.”
The Pacers responded, asserting complete control inside during the second half of a 93-78 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series. Indiana grabbed 12 of the first 13 rebounds in the third quarter and outrebounded Orlando 26-13 in the second half.
“That’s what it’s exactly about,” Indiana forward Danny Granger said. “This time of year, games are a lot harder. Everybody’s playing twice as hard. You have to be the team with the most resolve, the team just playing with the most attitude to try to get the win. It was just something everybody knew.”
The Magic had no choice but to concede that they were outhustled.
“In the third quarter, they just kicked our butts,” Orlando center Glen Davis said. “They got every loose ball.”
Indiana lost Game 1 81-77 on Saturday and felt its season slipping away in Game 2 before rallying.
“We just came out with a different type of energy,” Granger said. “We knew how important this game was. We couldn’t lose two games in a seven-game series on our home court. With that in hindsight, we went after it.”
David West had 18 points and 11 rebounds and has emerged as a stabilizing force for the Pacers.
“He’s leading our team right now in competitive spirit and will and desire and all that stuff that doesn’t show up on the box score, providing our team with the necessary swagger to get a good playoff win,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s just dialed in. A playoff tested veteran. Hopefully he’s going to lead us very far in the playoffs.”
Granger and George Hill each added 18 points and Paul George had 17 points and eight rebounds for Indiana. The Pacers won despite making just 2 of 20 3-point attempts and Granger, the team’s leading scorer this season, shooting just 7 for 21 from the field.
Indiana held the Magic to 36 percent shooting overall. Indiana has held the Magic below 40 percent shooting in both games.
“We’re going to have to be better offensively,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I’m going to have to find something that works.”
Davis led the Magic with 18 points and 10 rebounds, but he shot 5 for 16 from the field. Davis, the loudest talker after Saturday’s win, was the first player off the court on Monday.
J.J. Redick scored 13 points and Jameer Nelson added 12 for Orlando.
Orlando knows it still has control of the series because of the split.
“We tried to get two, got one,” Davis said. “We’re still in a good position. We just need to make sure that we play with a lot of energy and not let up.”
Orlando led 44-42 at halftime despite shooting just 32 percent from the field. The Magic stayed in the game with 12 offensive rebounds. Davis had 14 points and eight rebounds in the first half.
Granger hit a 3-pointer to tie the game early in the third quarter, then Hill made a layup to give the Pacers a 54-52 lead with 7:17 left and bring an uneasy crowd back into the game.
Granger’s three-point play extended Indiana’s lead midway through the quarter, and a 3-pointer by Hill made it 64-55 and forced Orlando to call a timeout.
The Pacers poured it on the rest of the quarter and led 72-57 heading into the fourth. Indiana outscored Orlando 16-2 over the final 6:40 of the quarter and held the Magic to 1-for-8 shooting.
George’s stepback jumper on the baseline as the shot clock expired gave Indiana a 78-64 lead with 9 minutes to play, and his three-point play 2 minutes later pushed the lead to 15.
The poor second half left Orlando feeling like it wasted an opportunity.
“We feel like we could have won tonight,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “The fact that we played so hard and had the lead, it makes it that much more tough.”
Indiana plans to take its heightened intensity on the road.
“It was just a scrappy night for us,” George said. “And that’s how we’ve got to play throughout this whole series.”
Notes: Orlando missed its first four shots and didn’t score for nearly 3 minutes to start the game. … Indiana shot 55 percent in the first quarter. … Anderson had eight points and six rebounds in the first quarter, but fouled out with 11 points and eight boards. … Indiana C Roy Hibbert was in foul trouble throughout the game and finished with four points and 13 rebounds in 23 minutes. … Davis is shooting 13 for 36 from the field in the series. … Indiana, which shot 13 for 22 from the free-throw line in Game 1, was 25 for 28 on Monday.