The Indiana Pacers were trying snap out of their worst slump of the season - a four-game losing streak - when they returned home Tuesday night here in Indianapolis to host the rebuilding Boston Celtics. But as they did in their previous losses, the Pacers started out slow yet again and saw themselves trailing the lowly Celtics at home early in the game.
After David West tied the game at 12 with about four minutes left in the first quarter, Andrew Bynum checked in for Roy Hibbert for the first time as a member of the Pacers in his first game back since December 26.
Already missing the services of backup point guard C.J. Watson for the third straight game with a sprained elbow, backup center Ian Mahinmi added to the injury woes with a rib injury and was scratched before the game. The timing of Bynum’s return couldn’t have come any better, but it was his strong performance that provided Pacers fans an elixir for their recent apprehensions.
Less than a minute into his Pacers debut, Bynum received an entry pass in the post from Evan Turner as he sealed Jared Sullinger in the paint. The 7-footer immediately showed flashes of his former All-Star form when he made a quick spin move then flushed it over Kris Humphries who came from the weak side to offer help. Bynum also went about cleaning the glass early, grabbing the ensuing defensive rebounds and a couple on the offensive end for five quick boards at the end of the quarter.
By the time Hibbert checked back in for Bynum at the 8:54 mark of the second quarter, Bynum had already chipped in four points and eight rebounds, and more importantly, sparked the Pacers to jump on the lead, which they never gave up for the entire game.
Bynum finished the game with eight points, 10 rebounds and an assist in just 15 minutes of action, as the Pacers defeated the Celtics, 94-83, to put a halt to their losing streak.
“I felt like I played alright,” Bynum said after the game. “You know it’s a new system, so I got to learn it and get better position on the block and become a bigger target. I thought I could have done more damage out there, but I was rebounding and felt good. My knees felt good. I had some spring in my step.”
West led the way for the Pacers with 24 points, while Paul George added 12 in a rather quiet night for the two-time All-Star. Although the win didn’t show any significant signs that the Pacers are on their way to playing their best basketball as they did in the beginning of the season, Bynum’s play on top of finally chalking one up in the win column definitely provides the blue and gold reasons to be optimistic.
"He brought a lot. There is not much on the court he didn't do for us tonight,” said George about Bynum’s contributions. “He really did a great job of controlling the paint, on the boards. Offensively he was huge. We made a huge emphasis to find him."
With the win, the Pacers maintained a three-game edge on the Miami Heat in the win column at 47-17 for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Asked what they needed to do to get back on the right track, Bynum answered succinctly, “We just need to keep on winning.”
With two rings already under his belt, winning is definitely something Bynum knows a thing or two about.
Dennis is on Twitter @dRealSource.