Despite the Indiana Pacers having the league's top defense, there was a slight feeling of unease in tonight's contest with the Houston Rockets every time Indiana appeared to take control of the game. The Pacers led nearly the whole game, but when they got the lead well into double figures, the Rockets would be right there with a big run to cut the lead within a pair of possessions.
Credit the Pacers for weathering the Houston runs, doing so with some big time shots, including 11 three point field goals, shooting 58%, getting a little relief for being beaten into submission by Orlando. The Rockets entered the game as the league's #1 team in hoisting up triples, converting on 43% of them tonight, hitting 13 of 30. The success the Pacers have had against the three has been put to the test the past two games, but after allowing five in the first half, they held Houston just five in the second half, a pair of those as late rally threes by Carlos Delfino.
In fact, one of the big swings in tonight's game came on the defensive end in the third quarter when the Pacers really showcased their ability to close out on the shooter, forcing them into three corner three misses after having considerable, and frustrating success in the second quarter at the three. Indiana's defense in the third quarter, defined by a 15-4 run, as Houston scored just 17 in the quarter, really gave Indiana enough ammunition to hold off the Rockets and get through their own offensive slumps.
Houston entered the game as one of the league's top offensive teams, and despite Indiana's defense, felt like they were in the game down 15 or 16 because of their ability to score in bunches. But they did so with a hot second quarter, led by Omer Asik, who had 22 points. Asik was a big key for Houston in the first half, grabbing six offensive boards, but Indiana did a tremendous job locking down on the offensive glass, giving up just three in the second half.
Paul George was the story of tonight's game, scoring 18 first quarter points as part of his game high 31 points. George had seven three pointers as part of his 11-19 shooting, and despite only having eight second half points, was a huge impact in other areas, getting five steals in the second half and totaling six boards.
He struggled with turnovers, but the Pacers as a team really took advantage of Houston's sloppy play, forcing 18 to limit the damage of George and Indiana's turnover. George really came to work on the defensive end against James Harden. Despite a few fouls including a bad four-point play foul, George was instrumental in limiting Harden to just 5-19 shooting. Harden entered the game with 22 straight games scoring over 20, but left tonight's game with just 17.
David West had a quiet 20 & 11 double-double, quiet as the supporting star to George's play, being not only big for a key bucket as he has been all year, in addition to making key passes for seven assists, but had some key defensive stops as well, including three blocks. Paul George is rightfully being considered for an All-Star spot, and should be after tonight's showing, but David West too deserves just as much consideration to make his third appearance after carrying the team on his back as George found his way into his current role, while continuing to be incredibly effective for the improving Pacers.
Lance Stephenson was the only starter not in double figures, scoring nine, but dishing out four assists. George Hill had 15 on 4-9 shooting tonight, and while his role as a scorer isn't as heavy with the emergence of George, in addition to the slow steps forward Roy Hibbert has made, he came up with the shots he put himself in position to make tonight.
Roy Hibbert has quietly been coming around in recent games, putting together a solid showing despite a growing concern of foul trouble limiting his action early. Hibbert had 12 points and nine boards with four blocks. He also had three assists, as all five starters posted at least three in tonight's win to help showcase the solid offensive execution in Indiana's 100 point effort.
Hibbert's early foul troubles led to minutes for Ian Mahinmi who was active in a huge block, giving some incredibly quality minutes as he has recently. Mahinmi left the game towards the end of the first half with gastroenteritis, forcing Jeff Pendergraph into the lineup, who came up with a couple of plays, but was an obvious dropoff from Hibbert and Mahinmi.
The bench was short Gerald Green tonight with food poisoning, but while Mahinmi brought the majority of the bench's good graces in the first half, in addition to an Orlando Johnson three pointer (he hit a field goal!), guys like D.J. Augustin got a solid second half with some key buckets with six points playing off the starters, despite missing all three of his three point attempts.
The win was a great bounce back after the eye rolling loss in Orlando, but despite the fourth night in five nights or what have you, Indiana has still lost four of their last five road games, and will have four straight out West to contend with. The first of the four will be against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday afternoon. An early 1 p.m. tip for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so make sure you're ready!