Seven games into the season and the Indiana Pacers have lived and died by the close games; six of them have been within four points at the end of regulation. It's been that kind of start for the Pacers, who held off a late pair of shots from the Washington Wizards to win 89-85, getting a much needed return to the win column. Despite some of the struggles, this was one of the better all around performances from the Pacers this season, which would be somewhat refreshing if they actually looked like a team that could challenge the upper echelon of the NBA right now.
Perhaps the absence of upper echelon teams on the schedule is the greatest ally to the Pacers right now. Despite the losses to Charlotte and Atlanta, as well as the surprising 4-1 Wolves, they've been able to work through the multitude of issues while remaining in games, unlike what transpired against San Antonio last Monday. But despite a tough game from the hungry Wizards, the Pacers played well despite some poor shooting efforts from their bigs. It was the wing show tonight; Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Gerald Green were the catalysts to Indiana's success tonight and it was good to see good shows from all three.
Lance Stephenson was moved into the starting lineup for tonight's game, helping the Pacers early and often with highlight play without the costly mistakes. Stephenson has been surprisingly composed early in his "do or die" season, scoring 12 points on 5-7 shooting while not giving up the ball once, jawing with rookie Bradley Beal on the court by making good plays.
Paul George hit his first seven attempts, finishing the night 8-12 for 20 points. It was something of an effortless 20 for George, who was automatic on his shot tonight while also grabbing seven rebounds. If there is a problem, George lived on his jumper tonight. Sure it was on, but it's not always a high quality shot, making a game icing trip with under two seconds his only free throw attempts of the night. Gerald Green looked solid off the bench, scoring 15, grabbing a few highlight alley oops early and also making his jump shot, grabbing eight boards.
Up front, the Pacers had a multitude of struggles. While Ian Mahinmi had a good shooting night with seven points on 3-4 shooting, David West (4-16) and Roy Hibbert (3-15) were the polar opposite of Stephenson and George's nights. While West's shots seemed a result of back-to-back fatigue and unfortunate rolls, he still found his way to a double figure night with 11 points.
Hibbert on the other hand, continued to struggle. He found success early with six of his seven points in the opening period, but had no luck after that getting points on the board. He continued to make plays on the defensive end and find his way to 12 rebounds, but still needs to work on getting his confidence back offensively. Tyler Hansbrough made some big hustle plays early in the fourth quarter, finished with six points, getting to the line 12 times. Unfortunately, he missed eight of those, including five of his last six as the Pacers struggled to build upon their eternal five-point cushion in the fourth quarter.
Even despite the up and down play from around the roster, it was a bit of an odd game. Both teams shot close to 50% most of the game, but neither team was able to put points on the board. The Wizards, fueled by A.J. Price (who pieced together a 12 and 14 double double), had 26 assists on their 35 field goals, getting good looks that went down seemingly all night except late in the fourth quarter, much to Indiana's fortune. The Wizards lived and died by the three tonight, making 10, something that proved an advantage for them a good portion of the night.
The Pacers split their latest back-to-back, improve to 2-0 at home, and have another opportunity to continue to improve and get back to .500 with a home game against Toronto on Monday.
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