INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Danny Granger was definitely playing Thursday night — gimpy ankle and all.
The way he saw it, there was no choice.
The Pacers’ leading scorer ignored a painful sprained left ankle and scored 32 points to lead Indiana past the struggling New Jersey Nets 93-88, a win Granger and his teammates desperately needed to right themselves.
“It’s been a lot of icing, a lot of pain medication,” Granger said after producing his second-highest points total of the season. “I knew I had to play tonight. We had lost five in a row, we had to get off it tonight.”
Granger made sure the Pacers (18-12) put an end to this dubious, season-long losing streak once and for all.
Yes, there were questions about how long Granger could play and how effective he would be after missing seven straight quarters since landing awkwardly on his foot Tuesday against Miami. When the Pacers forward arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he was still listed as day-to-day.
But Granger knew better, and it didn’t take him long to prove he could overcome the pain.
He made 10 of 20 shots, eight of nine from the free-throw line and grabbed five rebounds, igniting an early run that wiped out New Jersey’s 11-point lead. He also made the key shots during a late 9-2 run that finally gave the Pacers control of the game.
Indiana needed every ounce of energy Granger could provide.
“He was close last night, but he was going to be limited with what he could do in terms of pushing off,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Twenty-four hours makes a huge difference. The one thing about it is that he had fresher legs than anyone else out on the court.”
New Jersey (8-23) sure didn’t want to see Granger playing this way.
Deron Williams scored 29 points and Kris Humphries had 24 points and 10 rebounds, not quite enough to snap their losing streak which is now at eight. The last time they lost eight in a row was Nov. 30-Dec. 14, 2010.
And in a metropolitan area that already has a Super Bowl champion (the Giants), the biggest mouth in football (Rex Ryan), a Stanley Cup contender (the Rangers) and the NBA’s hottest new attraction (Jeremy Lin), the last thing the Nets needed in this latest public relations battle was another loss.
“So much pressure, I don’t know how we’re going to deal with it,” Williams said sarcastically.
The difference Thursday was Granger.
New Jersey sure didn’t make it easy.
Humphries controlled the inside early, making his first six shots and scoring 12 points in the first quarter as the Nets built a 29-18 lead.
But when Humphries went to the bench after drawing his second foul with 47.4 seconds left in the quarter, Granger asserted himself and the Nets collapsed.
The Pacers forward hit a 3-pointer to start a 15-0 run. Paul George ended it with another 3 to give Indiana a 33-29 lead.
From that point, the teams were locked in a virtual stalemate and Granger was just trying to hang on.
“A lot of times, when you get into a game and the adrenaline starts slowing, you’re not in as much pain as you would normally be in,” he said. “But I felt it.”
Things didn’t change much in the second half. Neither team led by more than four points in the third quarter, and it wasn’t until George made a 21-foot jumper with 8:15 to go that the Pacers finally took the lead for good.
Then, Granger re-emerged. He followed George’s basket with two free throws and made two more after George forced a turnover and tossed the ball down the court. Suddenly, Indiana had a 75-69 lead with 7:05 left, and after extending the margin to 88-79, all the Pacers had to do was fend off one more Nets’ charge.
Granger made sure of it by making the final four free throws of the game.
“We definitely missed him,” George said after finishing with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. “Danny brings a lot. He’s our best scorer. He defends so well, with Danny out, that definitely hurt us.”
Notes: The biggest surprise of the night came when the lights went out with 8:08 left in the first half. The officials sent both teams to their benches briefly before the lights came back on. … Indiana has only six fast-break points in its past two games. … The Pacers have played five games in seven days and wrapped up their first back-to-back-to-back of the season Thursday. … Indiana played its 11th straight game without George Hill, who has a chip fracture in his left ankle. … New Jersey was missing Shawne Williams, who is out indefinitely because of a sprained left shoulder, sore left foot and knee.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)