It was just like old times at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
After years of losing and players finding trouble, the Indiana Pacers finally gave their fans something to really cheer about. Danny Granger scored 25 points to help the Pacers defeat the Orlando Magic, 105-87, Tuesday night and clinch their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series, 4-1.
“I’m just so happy for our fans,’’ Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They’ve endured a lot those years when we struggled. To finally see us come back and have a winning team again and somebody that has a chance to do something special this year. That’s what they deserve. Pacers basketball is back.’’
It was a tough series for Orlando, which played all five games without All-Star center Dwight Howard because of a back injury. They took the opener, then watched Indiana put together its first series win since 2005 and its first clincher on its home court since the first round of the 2000 playoffs. No player on Indiana’s roster had won a playoff series while playing for the Pacers.
Granger finally got his first series win in year seven. Perhaps fans should take it easy on him - it took Reggie Miller six years.
Darren Collison scored 15 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and George Hill added 15 points for the Pacers, who trailed by 2 at the end of the third quarter but outscored the Magic 36-16 in the final 12 minutes.
Collison’s complete dominance of Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson in the fourth quarter turned the game. Indiana had no answers for three quarters before Collison, who had lost his starting job late in the season, entered the game and took over. Collison made all seven of his shots in the fourth quarter and had four assists. Nelson made 1 of 5 shots in the period and missed both of his 3-point tries.
Nelson led Orlando with 27 points and made 5 of 8 3-pointers. Glen Davis, a thorn in Indiana’s side throughout the series, scored 15 but made just 6 of 17 shots. The Magic made made just 5 of 16 shots in the fourth quarter.
Bulls 77, 76ers 69 - Luol Deng scored 24 points, Carlos Boozer added 19 points and 13 rebounds, and host Chicago beat Philadelphia to avoid a first-round playoff exit.
The top-seeded Bulls finally won without point guard Derrick Rose, building a 9-point halftime lead and staying in control down the stretch to pull within 3-2. Game 6 is Thursday in Philadelphia.
It’s been a brutal series for the Bulls, with Rose tearing the ACL in his left knee late in the opener and center Joakim Noah spraining his left ankle in Game 3.
He sat out his second straight game, but Chicago refused to bow out quietly.
Instead, the Bulls locked down the Sixers, holding them to a season-low 32.1 percent shooting.
Nuggets 102, Lakers 99 - Andre Miller scored 24 points, including two free throws with 12.8 seconds left, and Denver survived Kobe Bryant’s late scoring barrage in a 43-point performance, avoiding playoff elimination with a victory in Los Angeles.
JaVale McGee had 21 points and 14 rebounds for the sixth-seeded Nuggets, who trimmed the Lakers’ series lead to 3-2.