The Indiana Pacers completed a near wire-to-wire victory over the Memphis Grizzlies to improve on their franchise best start at 8-0. There was very little doubt the Pacers were going to hold onto their 16-point lead after the third quarter, but it was nice to see the Pacers not only keep their winning streak alive, but to play well for nearly the entire game as opposed to the second half. The second quarter has been a major sticking point of struggles for the Pacers, but they came away from the period tied 23-23 to lead 46-39. It set up another big third quarter that extended their lead by 10.
The Grizzlies entered the game coming off a convincing win over Golden State, holding the high powered Warriors to 13 fourth quarter points, but they still haven't a game away from the FedEx Center, staying winless after being held to 79 points on 41% shooting. Indiana was decidedly in control of the game all night, outworking and outplaying the Grizzlies in nearly every facet of the game. They dominated the glass and got after loose balls, making an effort to showcase their defensive prowess on a team that was on their level last year.
Lance Stephenson stole the show tonight, no small feat for how well the Pacers played, totaling his first career triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists. Stephenson was very nearly there after the first half with 8/9/8, simply needing a little extra push to clinch the milestone, doing so on the same shot Paul George went over 20 for the eighth straight game. Stephenson's swagger was on full display tonight, going straight up against Tony Allen, dropping him on a spin move and picking up a taunting technical for good measure.
It'd be easy to say Stephenson needs to mature from these kinds of things, but aside from a bonehead play fouling Marc Gasol at half court with 0.8 seconds in the first half remaining, he did very little to contribute to his team's downfalls. The team was working to get Stephenson his tenth assist, taking a couple of plays to get there, but didn't hurt the team's flow by allowing Stephenson to work for the assist. In fact, the talent around him made it easier for him to play for the triple-double.
Stephenson's triple-double is the fourth in the past season (George Hill had the team's fifth taken away from him last season as well), all by Indiana's starting lineup. It just goes to show the strength of the Indiana starting lineup that anyone can jump for a triple-double. Stephenson was still just one of many bright spots for the Pacers, as George continued his streak of scoring 20 points, once again doing so with a big second half after struggling in the first.
George scored 13 points in the third quarter, which has been the quarter he's really made his year on. Not only is Indiana still undefeated in the third quarter, but George has averaged double figures in the eight third periods. Despite a 2-7 first half, he finished up 9-16 for 23 points and seven rebounds to lead Indiana in scoring. Hill was another bright spot in the starting unit, appearing to take his matchup against Mike Conley personally, attacking the basket at all and scoring 13 points on 6-9 from the field.
David West was a benefactor of Stephenson's passing, being set up for his jumper, scoring 10 points on 5-8, with five rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks to his name, to round out a solid, but quiet game that lent itself to the victory. Roy Hibbert was also quiet, but only on the offensive end. He scored just three points, but was a force on the defensive end, grabbing seven rebounds and picking up five more blocks. He helped keep Memphis's front line in check while in the game.
His backup, Ian Mahinmi, has been playing better basketball of late, and finally got rewarded for his recent defensive efforts by not getting everything called against him. Mahinmi reached double figures for the first time this season, scoring 10 and going 6-6 from the free throw line, getting a block for himself. Luis Scola was the bench leader with 12 points, doing most of his damage in the first half tonight and Orlando Johnson continues to provide quality minutes off the bench, scoring five with a pair of rebounds.
Solomon Hill has been receiving the sixth man call for the Pacers in recent games, but the rookie is still working his way into the game, giving up as much as he brings to the table. His general effort level is very high, but he paired it with three missed three pointers, all fairly good looks and a woeful three turnovers. With Johnson's level of play, there must be a defensive reason Hill has gotten the minutes ahead of Johnson, but there's still plenty of work ahead for Hill to bloom into a guy who can be counted on in regular rotation minutes. Chris Copeland finished out the game and hit his first three pointer as a Pacer. You could see the relief wash over him and it was a nice treat for the fans to wrap up the win getting to see Copeland finally find the bottom of the net.
The Pacers' 8-0 start may be the best start in franchise history, but this is also the first time since November 2004 that they've won eight straight games, a streak of nine the Pacers were working on between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. They'll have a well earned three days off from games after completing a 5-0 run over seven days, setting up a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday as they look to stay perfect with a big road game in Chicago on Saturday looming.