This was exactly the kind of game the Indiana Pacers needed to have following their road win against Chicago last night, using a huge third quarter to top the road weary Portland Trail Blazers by seven 99-92. The Pacers improve to 7-3 in their last ten games, go above .500 for the first time in over a month, and (at pending outcome of Milwaukee's game in San Antonio) sit alone on top of the Central Division.
The Pacers really played well offensively, showing up against a Blazers team that hasn't shown in the early going to be much of a threat on the defensive end, getting double digit scoring from six players. They got healthy production from their bench, with Ian Mahinmi, Tyler Hansbrough, and Gerald Green all making plays and helping the starters after their heavy minutes in Chicago. Mahinmi had 12 points on 6-6 shooting, a season high for him, playing at a high level in the backup center spot, bringing more offense than Roy Hibbert.
Tyler Hansbrough was the brute force in the second quarter, scoring 10 points, but causing nightmares for many Blazers with his energy. It was good to see Tyler find positives to go along his energy, and while he still can't get anything going with his jumper, did continue to work and get easy baskets and get to the line. Green was a big factor for the Pacers in a sloppy fourth quarter, hitting a few key shots to keep the surging Blazers at bay.
As a whole, turnovers really played a big factor in the flow of tonight's game. The numbers weren't astronomical; the Pacers had 15 turnovers, but what the Blazers were able to do with those turnovers created numerous opportunities to keep the game close or keep Portland in the lead. The Blazers went into the half up two, outscoring Indiana 13-2 on points off turnovers. It's no surprise when the Pacers cruised to a 31-14 second quarter, they did so with just one turnover, outscoring Portland 10-0 in that same category.
Points off turnover had to be the stat line of the game as Portland cut Indiana's 18-point fourth quarter lead to four on a 17-3 run, fueled by an 11-0 quarter in points off turnovers. Those stretches of sloppiness really opened up opportunities for the Blazers, who erased that Pacers lead in an instant. Portland was led by their top draft pick Damian Lillard, and the rookie was superb tonight. As a basketball fan, you have to like what you've seen out of the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, and have to expect he'll be a thorn in Indiana's (and the league's) side for years to come.
Paul George followed up his 34-point effort with a solid 22, his first back-to-back 20-point games of his career. That's a huge step forward for George, who is searching for that consistency, to not only find his way on offense, but continue to be active with the ball in ways he can score. Scoring wasn't Paul's only contributions offensively tonight, he made some beautiful passes to give teammates some easy looks.
David West followed up his struggles last night with an 8-11 shooting night, scoring 16 and grabbing 10 boards. While Indiana didn't need him to carry the team late, he was primed in and position to do just that with the shots he was hitting. George Hill also bounced back with 18, some big three pointers as part of his night, going 5-5 from the line. Roy Hibbert continues to struggle with his shot to a perplexing degree, but the big fella stuck with the game tonight, leading the Pacers defensively with three blocks.
Lance Stephenson had a few looks early, those misses seemed to make him incredibly passive and indecisive with the basketball in the first half. Though he continued to make plays on rebounds and hustle, his night was limited as Tom shared that he had a hamstring issue that cut his second half minutes in favor of Green and Sam Young.
The Pacers did what they needed to do tonight and for that they should be commended. They've quietly rounded themselves into respectable shape, continuing to play at a high defensive level, but also finding a good enough offense when they aren't bricking their way out of the gym. While those nights will show up from time to time, there's little reason to be upset with this team's overall effort since Frank Vogel opened up the offense a little more.
The team has responded well to that, and have changed their fortunes because of it. The Pacers will stay at home for a Friday night matchup against the Denver Nuggets, who have been up and down all season. The Pacers will need to play at a high level again, but it's much easier to feel good about this Pacers team now than it was just three weeks ago.
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