Returning home for a quick game before heading back out on the road, the Indiana Pacers welcomed the New Jersey Nets into Bankers Life Fieldhouse as the blue and gold were styling in their 1971-72 ABA throwbacks. The injury riddled Nets were short just about every player of consequence short Deron Williams, but a gutsy effort for New Jersey kept them within striking distance nearly the entire game.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, while they were able to close out the Nets on a night Paul George recorded a career high 24 points highlighted by a emphatic double pump reverse jam, they also lost George Hill with about 90 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Following a jumper, Hill came down on Johan Petro's foot, turning his ankle. What initially looked like a simple sprain was revealed in post game to be a small chip fracture in his left ankle, one that puts an iffy time table on Hill's recovery. For the time being, Hill will be out indefinitely, and he will not travel with the team as they head back out on the road.
As for the game, and Paul George's effort, turnovers were the story early as five of Indiana's first six possessions ended in 10 New Jersey points as the Nets opened up a 10-3 lead. Indiana responded with a 10-0 run of their own as Paul George led the way with 11 first quarter points, including 4-4 shooting and 3-3 from range. The Pacers shot lights out throughout the first half, but an inability to keep the Nets off the three point line set up both teams to marathon their way to a classic ABA final.
Anthony Morrow and Deron Williams did everything for the Nets, and their play out of the half gave New Jersey a 63-61 lead. The Pacers were playing exceptionally well offensively, but were simply unable to pull away when the Nets claimed the lead. At that point, Danny Granger led the charge for a 17-3 run that finally broke the Pacers forward into a double digit lead.
With the loss of Hill, the Pacers relied heavily on Lance Stephenson, who did not disappoint, as a steal and layup on Shelden Williams put the Pacers comfortably up 18 points. But Deron Williams and Morrow, who scored all 27 of New Jersey's fourth quarter points, rattled off a 16-1 run that cut the once cozy lead to just three points as the Pacers sat just shy of 100 for almost six minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Pacers sure picked a great time to freeze up offensively, but as the Nets defense smothered the Pacers, it was the hustle play of the blue and gold that kept them in the game, including a huge Danny Granger dive out of bounds to save the ball with 35 seconds to go that went a long way to ice the Pacers victory. It was an ugly way to close out a team they simply had trouble shaking off all night, but a solid offensive effort (including their second game in a row over 100 points) proved to be enough for the Pacers to move to 14-6 on the year.
After the jump, more from the Pacers win:
- Paul George deserves all of the accolades for his play tonight. Not only was he on fire all night, he was able to climb above his career high plateau with 24 points on the night on 8-11 shooting. While his effort tonight will be showcased on SportsCenter for the reverse double pump jam he had that was the result of a pinpoint Lance Stephenson pass, he did have a solid game on the defensive end as well. While Deron Williams finished with 34, the times George covered Williams, he was able to frustrate him just enough to keep the total below 40.
- Danny Granger spent almost all game at the free throw line with 9 attempts to add to his 21 point night. Not only was he continuously attacking the basket and trying to get to the line, but his shots continue to look better nightly. He's not forcing as many bad shots as he was earlier in the season, and his play attacking the rim makes the bad shots he does take seem less damning. Granger finished just 6-15 from the field, but he really played a much better game than that, also totaling on 7 boards, 5 assists, and 3 steals.
- Roy Hibbert's 18 and 13 was as quiet a double double as the big fella has had all season. There was just no one on the Nets that could cover and counter what Hibbert was doing. The Nets did do a good job of limiting the passes inside to Hibbert, using those to force a number of turnovers, five on Roy, but when he got the ball, there was little to keep him from putting the ball in the basket. Hibbert got up for four big blocks over the course of the game, helping to turn solid D into rewarding O.
- Lance Stephenson got the call for double duty tonight when George Hill went out with his chip fracture, but also because following a strong start to the game, Darren Collison just was not having a good night. After getting beaten by Deron Williams all night, but struggled to make passes and just couldn't get into a rhythm. Stephenson really showed a lot as a passing point guard, making dime passes like they were going out of style, including the pass that set up Paul George for his Twitter trending dunk as well as finding Lou Amundson who himself had 9 on the night.
- Amundson had a big game himself, continuing his positive play from Sunday night, putting himself in better positions, and more importantly, getting shots to fall. His 1-17 stretch has given way to a perfect 8-8 shooting over the last two games, making the hustle all the more exciting to watch when he's contributing elsewhere on the floor rather than in the hearts of fans.
Even though the way the game was won is a bit lackluster and the loss of George Hill will weigh heavily in the minds of Pacers fans, it feels good to have this team continue to move forward in the win column. They'll have little time to savor this victory, as they will head up to Minneapolis to face the young and suddenly exciting Minnesota Timberwolves. The Pacers will certainly have to earn the victory against the upstart Wolves, but can ill afford to let a potential win slip away as the schedule remains challenging up through Valentine's Day. Stay tuned for more on George Hill's injury and hope for a speedy recovery. In the meantime, fans will have a great opportunity to see what Born Ready is made of.