Underwhelming Pacers effort just enough to extend streak

USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers held off the Suns for a 97-91 win as they move their winning streak to four.

After putting it to the Phoenix Suns in the first half, the Indiana Pacers really found themselves in a fight late when their offensive fortunes turned predictably sour. Indiana were able to make enough plays, and Phoenix were able to give away enough plays to put the Pacers into the win column for the fourth consecutive game; their seventh in the last eight. But it's far better to deal with a less than desirable game when the end result in a positive one.

The Suns deserve a lot of credit for sticking with the game when the Pacers finished the first half with 58 points on 56.1% shooting, but they had to know that no matter the half, the Pacers were going to slow down offensively and create opportunities so long as the Suns were able to claw their way into it. Even the Pacers' defense, their one constant this season, left a lot to be desired.

Phoenix were able to come back in the second half, even taking a brief fourth quarter lead, due to their second chance opportunities, and it really did take a couple of key Pacers plays and a couple of key Phoenix flubs to swing this in Indiana's favor. It's not hard to imagine a more capable and disciplined team completing the comeback in the face of oh-so-expected David West jumpers.

George Hill quietly led the way for the Pacers tonight with 22 on 9-13 shooting and David West struggled, but found enough late to hit those clutch, Winning Time buckets, but it was the tandem of Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert that really helped give Indiana a little extra push they needed to pull in the win they had to find a way to hold onto. Hibbert had 14 rebounds and was constantly a defensive threat against the Suns while getting a number of offensive rebounds that led to Pacers points, including a big rebound that lead to Paul George sinking a pair of free throw to send Indiana up four with under three to go.

Stephenson played well again, finishing the night with 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Even though he fell a rebound shy of a double-double, he still was the most active Pacer on both ends of the floor, creating turnovers with his steals and involving his teammates early and often, including a steal/assist combo that ended a nearly six minute field goal drought for the Pacers.

Tyler Hansbrough continued to play at a higher level with a 5-6 night for 12 points in the first half. Hansbrough was the most effective for a lukewarm bench that allowed the Suns to erase a pair of Pacers leads. Gerald Green had eight, with a pair of first half three pointers as part of a 7-10 onslaught for the Pacers from deep in the first half. Ian Mahinmi struggled, but did end up with four offensive boards.

D.J. Augustin was a big liability tonight after a solid showing against the Hornets last weekend. Augustin got lost on a screen more than once, partially allowing Sebastian Telfair to explode for a season high 19. Augustin's defensive struggles were one thing, but poor offensive recognition, including a lob to David West that was never going to get off the ground (rimshot). It resulted in any Augustin positive being minimized completely.

It may not be a huge surprise Augustin would struggle again with minutes, but it is disappointing he followed this up after a focused and controlled effort against the Hornets. Regardless of the areas the Pacers can improve getting Danny Granger back, Augustin is quickly running out of opportunities to not force the Pacers to go elsewhere to find a more suitable backup.

The Pacers will have a quick turnaround when they travel to Atlanta for tomorrow night's game against the Hawks. Despite the struggles in recent years matching up against the Hawks, the Pacers did a reasonable job in their first meeting in Atlanta at the beginning of the season, scoring just nine points in the fourth quarter en route to a loss during Indiana's out of sync 3-6 start.

For Indiana to keep improving beyond their solid 17-12 record, they'll need to find a way to reverse recent luck against Atlanta to grab a win with the fast-start Memphis Grizzlies, a potentially worse matchup than Atlanta, coming to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on New Year's Eve.

Want to go to some upcoming Pacers games? Indy Cornrows is your source for Indiana Pacers tickets.

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