Pacers gain upper hand on Magic

ORLANDO, Fla. — Before Game 3, Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger admitted his team might’ve taken the Orlando Magic lightly once Dwight Howard was ruled out for the season.

“You lose a player like Dwight, the best center in the game, and it’s human nature to have kind of a letdown,” Granger told reporters. “That’s a lot of the reason they got us in Game 1.”

It took a Game 1 loss to wake the Pacers up.

After a dominant Game 3 victory, the Pacers look primed to lay this series to rest.

Danny Granger scored an efficient 26 points and Roy Hibbert continued to dominate Orlando’s undersized frontcourt as the Pacers won 97-74, taking a 2-1 series lead and showing their Game 1 loss may have indeed been a fluke.

“Game 1, they were the better team, point blank,” Pacers forward David West said. “But I think we’ve got to the point where we’re watching film and making the right adjustments and doing what’s necessary for us to win.”

Can the Magic, who felt great entering Game 3 after splitting in Indianapolis, make this a series after a demoralizing return to Orlando? Or is this dominant run -- the Pacers are outscoring the Magic by 40 points over the past six quarters -- simply the Magic earning the Pacers’ full attention?

Indiana showed no weakness in Game 3, controlling both ends of the floor and mercilessly beating up on the undersized, overmatched Magic. And it all started with Indiana’s command of the paint.

There’s no question Indiana’s frontcourt advantage is the biggest factor in this series. With no Howard around, the All-Star Hibbert has Glen Davis (listed at a generous 6-foot-9) and Ryan Anderson (a stretch power forward not accustomed to playing against bruising centers) swatting at his shoulders. Hibbert was whistled for stray elbows twice -- but in his defense, Orlando’s big men come up to only his elbows.

Hibbert totaled 18 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes on Wednesday night, and his three blocks upped his series total to 14. He’s a big reason the Magic made only 10 shots in the paint, compared to 21 for the Pacers. “I told the guys, 'Pass it to me and I’ll make him move,'" Hibbert said.

Perhaps most telling: The Magic didn’t record a rebound 'til there was 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the first quarter. That’s eight minutes without a rebound. Howard himself rarely goes eight minutes without snagging a board.

“They’ve got a size disadvantage without Dwight Howard in there -- there’s no secret there,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “They’re doing the best they can.”

With Davis, Anderson and the unproven Earl Clark in the frontcourt, their best isn’t even close to getting it done. And it’s not just at center.

Granger is too quick and skilled for Hedo Turkoglu. The Pacers’ starting guards, Paul George and George Hill, are bigger than Orlando’s guards. The Pacers’ second unit of Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough are better than all of Orlando’s off-the-benchers except J.J. Redick.

“Look, they’re bigger than us at most every position,” Redick says. “We battled in Game 1, we battled in Game 2 and tonight we battled for the first half. I think we just have to keep that up.”

Yes, battle. And make 3-pointers and free throws. And rebound better. And not turn the ball over.

There isn’t any one area Indiana dominated in, because they pretty much dominated them all.

It’s a far cry from the Indiana’s Game 1 upset loss at home, in which they managed only 77 points and let Orlando dominate down the stretch.

“That loss really woke us up and showed us what Orlando was capable of,” Granger said.

“We knew we really had to play this series to win.”