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Watson helps get team back on track

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There was no shortage of ice present for C.J. Watson following his finest performance in an Indiana Pacers uniform.

A bag for his hamstring, another for his tender right arm.

Draped in a towel while seated in the chair next to his locker, the soft-spoken backup point guard grimaced more than grinned moments after Sunday’s 102-97 victory against Oklahoma City.

Having dropped 20 points on the Thunder in only 25 minutes of action, Watson confidently provided the kind of spark the Pacers had been missing with losses in nine of their previous 13 games.

Indiana coach Frank Vogel described him as spectacular.

Never one for hyperbole, the 6-foot-2 Watson elected not to use such adjectives.

“I’m just glad we came out with a win, and that’s all that really matters,” said Watson, a seven-year NBA veteran who turns 30 on Thursday. “I’m just trying to give my all and leave it all on the court to help my team win.”

Watson, who entered the Oklahoma City game late in the first quarter after George Hill collected his second foul, immediately made his presence felt.

His 3-pointer at 1:17 from the right wing tied the score at 19-all; another from the same spot just a few steps in front of the Indiana bench 22 seconds later put Indiana ahead 22-19.

For good measure, Watson swished a triple from the left baseline as time expired in the first, though officials waved it off, saying he had stepped on the out-of-bounds stripe.

Undeterred, Watson came back with eight points in the second quarter, six of which were scored in a matter of 10 seconds.

With the score deadlocked at 29-all, Watson knocked down his third triple at the 9:02 mark. Following an Oklahoma City turnover, Watson drove the lane for a layup while drawing contact.

The sellout crowd of 18,165 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse roared. Still lying on the court, Watson displayed his own version of exuberance by shaking two clenched fists before being helped to his feet.

Suddenly, the Quiet Storm — the nickname given to Watson by his sister while in high school — wasn’t so quiet.

Hamstring and elbow injuries forced Watson to miss a total of 18 regular-season games. The Pacers would win only seven, furthermore demonstrating the importance of quality backcourt depth in the NBA.

Sunday was Watson’s third game back in Vogel’s rotation. The former University of Tennessee player is averaging 12.7 points in those games, well above his season average of 6.6.

Watson’s re-emergence comes at the perfect time for Indiana, which continues to get next to nothing from center Roy Hibbert, who Sunday was held scoreless for the third time in four games.

Helping nullify Hibbert’s latest disappearing act is the productivity of a second unit so carefully put together by team president Larry Bird during the offseason.

Hibbert’s backup, 6-10 Ian Mahinmi, had 11 points and five rebounds against the Thunder, while forward Luis Scola finished with 10 points.

A win at Orlando on Wednesday in the team’s regular-season finale seals the No. 1 seed for Indiana in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Pacers have won two of three against the Magic this season with Watson averaging 7.7 points off the bench.

Three days after helping silence the Thunder, the Quiet Storm now hopes to provide even more lightning.

“We’ve always been confident. We just hadn’t been playing well,” Watson said. “The confidence is still pretty high. Hopefully we can win the last game and go into the playoffs with momentum.”

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