INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — It's a good thing Pacers coach Frank Vogel warned his team to ignore the experts.
Indiana entered its first-round Eastern Conference playoff series heavily favored, yet the Pacers surrendered home-court advantage in an 81-77 loss on Saturday to a Magic team whose best player, All-Star center Dwight Howard, is out for the season with a back injury. A loss in Game 2 Monday at home would put the Pacers in bad shape before heading to Orlando.
Indiana had momentum from a 12-3 finish to the regular season, so the Game 1 disaster was unexpected. After the team had some time to breathe, the Pacers felt like themselves again.
"We lost a game," forward Danny Granger said. "We watched it. It's not the end of the world. It's a seven-game series. We don't want to overreact."
If nothing else, the Pacers respect this new version of the Magic.
"Even though they're a sixth seed team, they're still good with or without Dwight Howard," Pacers guard Darren Collison said. "I really feel like we have our hands full. Everybody's saying that we're favored. No, it's a series. We're going to try to take it one game at a time and we can't overreact because we lost one game. We've got to protect home court tomorrow and go out there and get after it."
Vogel remained calm, despite facing the possibility of a two-game deficit.
"It's not in my nature to panic," he said. "It's not in this team's nature to panic. The answers are clear. Our deficiencies last night are very fixable. Things we've done all year. We're still a very confident bunch."
So are the Magic, who always thought they had a chance in the series.
"I just think they're good and they believe they can win games," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said of his players after Game 1. "I don't think that they're feeding off the underdog role. I think a little bit, it puts a little bit, maybe, a chip on your shoulder. We've been playing that hard as we've gone."
The Magic say they won't be satisfied with a split.
"I know that they're going to feel a lot of pressure to win this second game, and we don't want to let off at all," Orlando forward Ryan Anderson said. "We don't want to kind of just say we won and kind of give back that leeway."
The Pacers nearly won the opener, but they went scoreless in the final 4:05. Indiana could have tied the game in the closing seconds, but Granger, who had been dominant late in games throughout April, traveled.
Granger's fourth quarter was one to forget. He went 0 for 3 from the field, missed both of his free-throw attempts and had no assists and two turnovers in the final 12 minutes. He said he shot between 800 and 900 free throws and jump shots on Sunday.
"It's muscle memory," he said. "That's basketball. When your jump shot is not falling, you just get in the gym and keep shooting until it feels better. Same thing with free throws."
Vogel expects Granger to bounce back.
"He's fine," Vogel said. "He's fine. He knows there's going to be times in your career where you have off nights or you have a couple bad possessions late in the game. He's never lacking in confidence, so he'll be fine."
Indiana played solid defense in Game 1, but its offense sputtered.
Roy Hibbert did everything except make baskets in the opener. He finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and a team playoff-record nine blocks, but he made just 3 of 11field goals. Anderson and Glen Davis consistently kept the 7-foot-2, 275-pound center out of his comfort zone.
The Pacers shot just 35 percent from the field, with most of the baskets — and misses — coming in halfcourt sets. Vogel said the Pacers don't want to grind it out against the Magic again.
"We've got to commit to the running game," he said. "We've come and gone with that throughout the year and when we've run, we've been lethal. We didn't run last night. You try to play halfcourt basketball against a great defensive team like they are, you're going to struggle."
The Pacers usually are better in the halfcourt, but an unusually high number of open shots simply didn't fall for them on Saturday. The Pacers say Orlando should only get partial credit for Indiana's Game 1 ineptitude.
"They just made shots when we didn't," Pacers guard George Hill said. "We know it's the playoffs, you're going to have good shots, you're going to have bad shots. But they executed down the stretch and for four minutes towards the end of the game, we didn't execute."
Vogel figures if the Pacers do what got them the No. 3 seed in the first place, they will be fine.
"We didn't make some shots we normally make," he said. "We didn't make free throws like we normally make them. But we just didn't share the basketball like we've done all year to get us the record that we have. We're very dialed into what we need to do. We feel good about tomorrow night."
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap