The physicality started almost from the opening tipoff when Arron Afflalo drove into the lane and got into a minor shoving match with Paul George. The two picked up technical fouls as they pushed each other and shared some pleasant words before teammates were able to separate them.
It was the beginning of Indiana getting under Orlando's skin. It was a constant theme throughout the evening for the Magic as things got only tougher and tougher against Indiana as the night went on.
The Pacers took the lead for good early in the first quarter and the Magic fought back some. They took a double digit lead for good midway through the second quarter. The fight it seemed was all over but the count out for a knocked out Magic team. The big and physical Pacers defense had stymied the Magic and knocked them completely off their game in a 115-86 victory at Amway Center.
Indiana had all the answers, sending Orlando to the mat early and never letting Orlando get up with a surprisingly lethal offensive and fastbreak attack.
"I think if you don’t respond to their aggressiveness they are going to keep doing it and keep going after you," Nikola Vucevic said. "That’s what they do. They are a good team. They play that way. They are a tough team. When you play against them, you’ve got to bring a lot of energy and a lot of aggressiveness. That’s the only way you can beat them."
The Pacers slowly extended their lead out to as much as 29 points in this game, scoring 30 points off 21 turnovers and recording 15 fast break points, including 11 in a breakthrough third quarter where the Pacers built their largest lead. Paul George scored 25 points and Tyler Hansbrough had 18 points off the bench as the Pacers shot an uncharacterstically high 51.8 percent from the floor and 11 for 19 from beyond the arc.
Indiana though has built its identity on the team's defense. And that was in full display.
The 21 turnovers tell only part of the story — showing how the team built a huge chunk of its lead. The 39.0 percent shooting Indiana gave up tells more of the story. Arron Afflalo scored 19 points in the losing effort, but Jameer Nelson had 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting and Tobias Harris had seven points on 2-for-8 shooting in his first start for the Magic.
Nelson recorded four of his six assists in the first quarter as Indiana helped keep the ball on the perimeter and away from the basket, forcing the Magic into some poor spacing and taking the team out of sync offensively. When the Magic did get in the paint, Roy Hibbert was there with five blocks. Orlando shot only 13 for 35 in the paint.
"They are a tall, long team so they take up a lot of the lane," Harris said. "I thought tonight we should have tried to get out on the break more. They are a team with a lot of size and just space the court. That’s something we’ve just got to work on and that’s something we’ll look at tomorrow and get better at."
Getting out on the break was easier said than done. Wtih the Pacers making so many shots it was difficult for the Magic to take the ball out of the rim. Even more difficult was the Pacers putting some token pressure on the Magic and creating turnovers in the backcourt on several occasions.
Then there were some open floor turnovers. Confidence and frustration were brimming under the surface thanks to that suffocating Indiana defense.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel said his team's length is key factor to their defense. Several Magic players also mentioned Indiana's athletic guards and the team's ability to rotate quickly and cover a lot of ground in recovery. No doubt, Indiana is a strong defensive team.
The Pacers tried to establish an inside presence and collapse the defense into the paint. David West went after Harris early on and got the forward in foul trouble. The focus helped open things up on the perimeter where the Pacers were making jump shots at an uncharacteristically high rate.
Really the key was the Pacers defense turning the Magic over and forcing difficult shots. The Magic never could establish a rhythm or flow offensively and they were caught behind the 8-ball very quickly.
"We took some shots and we weren’t balanced in terms of our floor balance and that put us in tough position in transition," Jameer Nelson said. "They are not a team that I don’t think runs the ball down your throat a lot but they did tonight for the most part. Even if they didn’t get the ball down and score, they got the ball down quick and forced us into mismatches and cross matches and stuff like that."
Again, the team's struggles to respond to the Pacers' runs proved critical in the final result of this game. The Pacers defense was a constant and that buried the struggling Magic.
The hope now is that Orlando can put this game behind it and get past the physical nature of the game and learn for the next outing — Sunday against another slow team in Philadelphia.
The next time, the Magic will need to respond.
"They were the aggressors tonight," Jameer Nelson said. "They kind of hit us first and we just have to respond better."