INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Danny Granger’s partner is back.
Dunleavy, a leading candidate for the league’s most improved player award last season, missed the first 34 games this season with a sore right knee. He had struggled with his shot since his return, but found his form against Miami. He was 10-for-18 from the floor, including 4-for-8 on 3-pointers.
No one was happier to see it than Granger, a first-time All-Star who carried the scoring load while Dunleavy was out.
“When he shoots the ball like that, we’re going to be hard to beat,” Granger said. “I sat on the bench and enjoyed.”
Dunleavy, in typically humble fashion, was critical of his best performance of the season.
“I still missed some easy ones that I normally make, but I’m getting there and it felt good to see the ball go in,” he said.
Though Dunleavy’s shot had been a bit off since his return, the respect opponents have for it remained unchanged. As a result, Indiana’s offense has run more smoothly since his comeback, and the team is 6-3 with him in the starting lineup.
“It’s just a matter of time for Michael,” Indiana coach Jim O’Brien said. “We missed a number of things without him.”
Granger scored 19 points after missing Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee with a sore right knee. Troy Murphy also scored 19 points for the Pacers, and was 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
It was Indiana’s seventh consecutive win at home, and its 13th straight regular-season home win over Miami.
“We won these seven games in a row, and we need to build some momentum and keep this streak going,” Granger said. “If we can defend our home court and steal a few on the road, we’re right back in this playoff race.”
Miami played without its top two rebounders for most of the game. Shawn Marion sat out with a left groin strain, and Udonis Haslem was ejected after getting two technicals with 3:03 left in the first quarter.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he felt the officals had a “quick trigger,” but said it was unacceptable for Haslem to get thrown out for arguing.
“He had some words, and for a captain, that hurt,” Spoelstra said.
Wade said Haslem’s ejection hurt, but not as much as Miami’s approach to the game.
“We knew how hard this game was going to be,” Wade said. “They play very well at home. They play well, period. We were aware of it, but we didn’t act like we were aware of how good they were.”
The Pacers shot 15-for-31 from 3-point range.
“We stepped up and knocked them in,” Dunleavy said. “We obviously moved the ball very well and that’s really the key—drive and kick and hit the open man. We have a lot of guys that can shoot it.”
Indiana took control of the game early in the second quarter. The Pacers led 29-26 at the end of the first quarter, but increased their lead to 46-31 on a 3-pointer by Murphy with 7:44 left in the first half.
T.J. Ford made a runner at the buzzer to give Indiana a 66-49 lead at halftime. Dunleavy scored 23 points before the break.
Indiana continued to control the game in the third quarter. A one-handed putback dunk by Dunleavy made it 86-64 with just over four minutes left in the period.
Now, the Pacers have all their pieces and can legitimately start thinking about chasing a playoff berth.
“I think we’re starting to see a little bit of the team we expected to see at the beginning of the season,” Dunleavy said. “Hopefully, we can keep that up.”
: Granger’s father, Danny Sr., presented his son with his All-Star jersey during a brief ceremony before the game. … Miami G Mario Chalmers picked up his fifth foul in the third quarter. He fouled out with 9:34 left after playing just 13 minutes. … Ford, who tied a career-high with 34 points in Wednesday’s win over Milwaukee, scored 12 in a reserve role against Miami. He has struggled with back pain for the past month. … Indiana F Maceo Baston had season highs of 12 points, seven rebounds and 19 minutes.