As George Hill goes, so do the Pacers. At least that was the case tonight, as Hill's first half woes led the Indiana Pacers to a 14-point halftime deficit and his late game heroics set the stage for him to sink the dagger in the backs of the New Orleans Pelicans en route to a 95-90 comeback victory to move the blue and gold to 2-0 on the season. It's really a remarkable, gutsy, and above all necessary win for the Pacers. These are the kinds of games they have to come away with if they hope to reach the heights they aim to reach this season.
Yet, when staring at the first half the Pacers had, jumped by the Pelicans early and often, with Hill looking as out of sync as the Pacers on both ends of the floor. A step late on defense, a step slow on 50/50 balls, some early foul trouble helped down the Pacers in the first half, as New Orleans ran off an 11-2 run to push their lead to 16 in the second quarter, the final two aided by a George Hill turnover. All told, the Pelicans forced 11 first half turnovers, scoring 18 points to put themselves in control heading into the half.
Similar to last night's game against Orlando, the Pacers took a while to get moving, but they came out with much better energy in the second half to begin mounting a comeback. Hill was much more focused in the second half, playing a key role in jumping the Pacers back into contention. But the Pelicans proved tough, hitting timely buckets to keep the Pacers at arms length, but a Hill three pointer half broke through the wall halfway through the fourth quarter.
New Orleans and Indiana threw punches back and forth with the Pelicans jumping out by four with just under two to go. The Pacers responded with a gut punching 8-0 run, capped by Hill's fourth three pointer of the night, a confident pull up with 31 seconds remaining to put Indiana up four, sealing the win from a couple of Eric Gordon shots late to grab a key road win against a quality Pelicans team.
Hill went from the goat to the G.O.A.T. in one game. His missed cues in the first half directly aided the difficulty the Pacers were having getting any kind of momentum against a confident and keyed in New Orleans squad. In the second half, however, Hill helped the team tremendously, scoring 14 of his 19 points in the second half, hitting big shot after big shot to help guide the Pacers back into the driver's seat.
It was interesting to see just how Hill's fortunes helped shape the team's outcome, but it's not surprising when looking at Indiana's success with him as the team's starting point guard. While he might not be a traditional point, when he plays well, the team in turns plays well. It's easy to make a case for the importance of any of Indiana's starting five, but it's also easy to make a case for the importance of all of them together.
Indiana's 11 first half turnovers led to seven in the second half, but more importantly, they allowed just two points off those seven turnovers in the second half. Indiana allowed just 40 points in the second half, aided by some really good shots by the Pelicans that good defense can only do so much with. Roy Hibbert was a monster factor for the Indiana defense in the second half. Heavily saddled with foul trouble in the first half, Hibbert finally got some game time in the second, wrapping with just six points (but his five second half points were timely and important), but also with five blocks in just 22 minutes of action.
Paul George was Indiana's leading scorer with a cool 32, shooting his way all around the floor. He shot 9-19, but he landed some exceptionally tough shots in the second half as the Pacers mounted their comeback. While it'd be nice to see the quality of the looks go up, it's hard to argue when he's sinking some ridiculous looks from everywhere. George also got to the line 13 times, helping to ice the game at the end, and really playing at a high level. There were glimpses and shots of a Paul George who can get Indiana key points at key stretches, but there was a lot of importance towards giving George support as the second half wore on.
It's not too often you can look at David West's performances and say he was matched up poorly, but Anthony Davis played at a high level, and was overwhelming West for much of the night on both ends of the floor. It resulted in a poor shooting night for West, just 3-11, but when he was lucky enough to not have to face Davis, he made the most of it, getting to the line late to hit down a couple of key free throws to give Indiana the lead for good.
Lance Stephenson had 16 points and eight rebounds on the night on an efficient 7-12 shooting. When he took his shots, he was wildly impressive as he was last night. Even with George's big shot ability growing, there's probably not a player that's more exciting on this Pacers squad than Stephenson bowling down the floor with the ball. Some interesting rotations had Stephenson play point guard with Hill and C.J. Watson, but solid and efficient play from Stephenson could be a key component of Indiana's team moving forward, in whatever unit he's playing in.
The bench had just ten points tonight, but there was little reason to be disappointed in their play. Orlando Johnson was quiet, but played well in the second half, forcing his way to the line for a couple of late points. Luis Scola continues to impress with his jumper, playing the poor man's David West role to perfection through the first two games. Ian Mahinmi, getting some extended run with Hibbert's foul troubles, was active and exciting, sending away four blocks and grabbing seven rebounds.
Indiana took a step forward tonight. Not only boasting the league's first 2-0 record of the year, but learning once again what they have to do in order to grab wins against teams that are hunting them. The Pelicans played extremely well. Eric Gordon was a nightmare throughout much of the night, scoring 25 points and he got extended help from Jrue Holiday and Davis. Holiday had 24 while Davis pulled down a 20/12 double double.
New Orleans looked good enough to compete for a Western Conference playoff spot, and the Pacers managed to come away with the win despite some great play from the Pelicans. Indiana will return home for a nice three day layoff after a back-to-back to open the season. They'll tip off Saturday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, fresh off their own impressive late game win against Brooklyn. It won't be easy, but with everyone gunning to take down the Pacers, nothing will be.