Collison comes off bench to help Pacers in win

INDIANAPOLIS — Frank Vogel was fully aware of the
axiom a player should not lose a starting position due to injury. He also was
fully aware his team won seven in a row after George Hill stepped in at point
guard when Darren Collison went down with a sore groin against Boston on April
7.

And so Vogel made the move late in the season, announcing Hill as the starter
and shifting Collison — who had started every game of Vogel’s tenure as head
coach before the injury — to the bench.

It took a while for Collison to regain his health, accept a markedly different
role, and adjust to the personnel and style of the second unit, but it’s safe
to assume the third-year guard from UCLA has warmed to the task.

Collison scored 15 of his postseason career-high 19 points in the fourth quarter
to spark a rally that sent the Pacers to a 105-87 victory over Orlando in Game
5 on Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to close out their first playoff series
victory in seven years.

“It’s got to be very rewarding for him,” Vogel said. “He has a
great deal of pride in his abilities and he’s led our team all year in just
determination and purity and the will to win and the desire to win. His effort
is always just great. I’m just so happy for the kid. He’s one of the best kids
I’ve ever coached and he was just terrific tonight.

“His ball pressure was terrific, he helped slow down Jameer (Nelson), who
was red-hot in the third quarter and then offensively he had a great shooting
night and had a great playmaking night. He understood how the Magic were
playing us and really got into the lane and made a lot of plays for guys.”

Orlando’s veteran point guard dominated the third quarter, scoring 15 of his
game-high 27 points to lead the Magic to a 71-69 lead heading into the fourth.
But Collison quickly went to work, accounting for five consecutive buckets —
scoring four and setting up a Danny Granger 3-pointer — and the Pacers were off
and running on a 20-7 run that opened a 91-80 lead.

Collison then added three more buckets, including a steal and dunk, as part of a
14-2 run that blew it open.

“I’m not going to lie, it was extremely frustrating, particularly with my
injury, something I can’t control,” Collison said of losing the starting
job. “But I just have to keep a positive mindset, even coming off the
bench. I’m just now starting to feel healthy and I’m trying to contribute
however I can.

“I’m trying to adjust the best way I can. It’s hard playing with a certain
unit for the whole year and then your last couple of games coming down the
stretch playing with a different unit. That’s been the biggest adjustment,
playing with new guys in the unit, knowing the personnel.”

Collison could be a difference maker for the Pacers off the bench as they head
into their second-round series, most likely with Miami. The Heat hold a 3-1
lead heading into Wednesday’s Game 5 in Miami.

While the Heat have the Big Three, the Pacers lean heavily on their depth and
will need a strong performance from the second unit — a group Collison is just
now beginning to lead. After a slow start to the series, he racked up 40
points, 17 assists, six steals and just one turnover in the final three games.

“We know a team can beat any crew of superstars,” Vogel said.
“We preach team play. We watched what the Dallas Mavericks did in the
playoffs, being a first-round exit team and going on to win the championship
the next year.

“There’s a great deal of power in teamwork. Any given night it can be a
different player on our team. We’ve got a lot of talented guys that take pride
in their individual performances and how they contribute to the team and when
you have guys like that, somebody different is going to step up every night and
tonight it was D.C., for sure.”