The Indiana Pacers used a 12-0 run to jump all over the Orlando Magic from the opening tip, but the Magic fought back to take a 44-40 halftime advantage. A woeful second quarter doomed the Pacers to close the first half, but they came out looking more in sync for the second half, regaining the lead and pulling away from Orlando for the 97-87 win. The Pacers led by as many as 19 in the fourth quarter, but Orlando drew back to within 10 late after Roy Hibbert left the game with a knee injury.
The injury proved to be the dominate takeaway from the game, with Hibbert going down grabbing his knee on a non-contact hit. Hibbert limped back to the locker room, but returned with smiles. Frank Vogel said after the game that Hibbert was fine and could've returned the game if necessary. There's no choice but to hope that's the case, because the ensuing 9-2 run the Magic rattled off in Hibbert's absence wasn't an accident.
Hibbert played at a Defensive Player of the Year level tonight. He not only had 16 rebounds, but had seven blocks to lead the Pacers in a category they dominated in. Indiana wrapped up with 18 blocks as a team, 15 coming from Indiana's starting front court. As an addendum to the knee concerns, Hibbert is expected to play tomorrow night in New Orleans.
David West up front followed Hibbert's effort with five blocks of his own, being one of three Pacers to reach double figures with 13. West had a solid night in certain areas, but struggled in others, especially turnovers, where he had five. He tracked down a couple of them as part of his two steals, but it was an on and off game for West, who was one of only two Pacers to go perfect from the line, shooting 5-5.
Paul George led the Pacers in nearly every facet of the game, scoring 24 points on an efficient 8-16 shooting, getting a couple of end of quarter buckets, including a buzzer beater three to close the third. He himself had three blocks with six rebounds and five assists. Minus some stretches where he seemed to force things a little too much, George was outstanding in just the level of play he showcased in tonight's effort on both ends, even hitting a trio of three pointers.
Lance Stephenson was the primary support for George, scoring 19 points on 8-12 shooting, with seven rebounds, and five assists. For a team that turned the ball over 21 times, it's continuously impressive to see Stephenson do everything he does with the ball and still only commit a single turnover. Is Lance a primary ball handler? It's hard to say yes, but it's also hard to say no when he can do so much more with the ball than anyone else on the team.
It's a completely different level of ball handling from the team's primary point guard George Hill, who labored through the first half, a late rebound saving him from going into the locker room with a trillion stat line. He did come on in the second half seven points, including some late game sealing points, but with just two rebounds and zero assists, it's not hard to want more from Hill, who did recognize his role tonight within the team's flow.
The bench played much better in the second half than the first, turning a five point first half into 26 for the game, helping lead the Pacers into double digits in the second half. Luis Scola had a steady eight points, but as Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn pointed out, Scola allowed Andrew Nicholson to light up the scoreboard in the first half, when Nicholson scored all 18 of his points in the first half.
Nicholson didn't play in the third despite the big first half as Vaughn wanted to play matchups and didn't want to put Nicholson on West. So there's a concern with Scola's defensive reputation being less than stellar, but Nicholson was fantastic in that first half, single-handedly carrying the Magic in the second quarter. Scola did hit some nice shots in the second half.
Orlando Johnson led the bench with nine, making the most of his time in the second half to put up his points. Johnson looked solid and continues to make the most of his minutes, coming off the bench tonight as Indiana's sixth man. For the Magic, most eyes were on Victor Oladipo's NBA debut; one of the Rookie of the Year favorites didn't disappoint, attacking endlessly for 12 points on the night. Oladipo looked sharp, and watching him progress will be a big bright spot for the Magic moving forward.
Despite some woes on offense early, turnover issues remaining, and a less than enticing 17 assists on 34 field goals, the Pacers played well enough to come away with the win and certainly looked good at times. The Magic deserve a lot of credit, though. They were able to hit timely shots to keep the Pacers from opening up a crippling run for much of the game, and had plenty of energy in mounting necessary comebacks against Indiana's defense.
Orlando's defense looked sharp as well at times, but we'll know moving forward whether that was a Magic trait or a Pacers offensive trait. Hopefully the former, but Indiana will head on the road to play the new look New Orleans Pelicans tomorrow at 8 p.m. EST, giving a quick road test for the Pacers, who find themselves a "as good as you can get" 1-0 to open the 2013-14 regular season.