The Indiana Pacers enjoyed a well-deserved three day layoff after a five game in seven nights stretch, returning to action tonight against an injury-riddled Milwaukee Bucks team. Despite a spirited effort from the Bucks, the Pacers were able to wrap up a convincing 104-77 final to move to 9-0 on the season. The Pacers led most of the way, using a strong second quarter and stout defense to jump out 15 at the break, but Milwaukee came out on a 9-0 run in the third.
Indiana was able to minimize the run, but lost their first third quarter of the season in the process. It wasn't as ominous as it could've been as Indiana stood strong and held Milwaukee to just 16 points in the final quarter to wrap up the victory with Indiana shooting 50.6% and holding Milwaukee to a frigid 34.1% despite the Bucks hitting 50% of their three point attempts. The Bucks were able to stay in the game thanks to their offensive rebounding, which ran up the number of shot attempts, but the Pacers were efficient in limiting the amount of second chances the Bucks converted. Milwaukee had 17 offensive rebounds, but only 14 second chance points.
Zaza Pachulia had nine of their offensive boards on his own, but his putback rate was poor, finishing just 2-14 for the game. It was nice to see Roy Hibbert not only limit Pachulia's impact, but also play well against him. Pachulia was a nightmare for Hibbert last season in Atlanta, and if there was any doubt how much progress Hibbert has made in the past year, his 24 points, 10 rebounds, and eight blocks speak volumes. Hibbert scored his 24 points on 10 field goal attempts, hitting all eight of his free throw trips, including a pair of and one trips.
It continues to be impressive just how versatile this team's roster is in regards to the team not needing a nightly constant in order to keep winning. Hibbert scored just three points, but his offensive contributions weren't missed as the Pacers won by 16. Tonight, he was the offensive catalyst for much of the night, and it resulted in another resounding victory. David West took the scoring backseat tonight, scoring seven on just 2-3 shooting, but grabbing seven boards along the way.
The one offensive constant has been Paul George, who continued his 20-point streak with a 22 point effort, which included 17 second half points. George has come on big time in the second half this season, mostly in the third quarter, where he led the Pacers with 10 points. While George didn't get to the line and went just 2-8 from the three point arc, it was his midrange game that continues to be wildly impressive. George hit eight of his nine midrange shots, continuing to be positively lethal in everything he's putting at the basket.
Lance Stephenson had some incredible highlights early as part of his 11-point night, but after an unnecessary shoulder bump with O.J. Mayo after a timeout, appeared to check out of the game. He only played 24 minutes after playing the entire first quarter. As impressive as Stephenson has been this season, he's still prone to these kinds of nights. Fortunately, there's been little to suggest he's going to slip into these kinds of habits for prolonged amounts of time.
The Pacers have recently been efficient in points off of assists, but tonight were less than stellar in that area, only totaling 14 assists on 40 field goals, led by George Hill, who had five and nine points. Hill went just 4-13 from the field, played very well by Nate Wolters, but managed to find a few key buckets throughout the game.
Luis Scola led the Pacers off the bench with eight, grabbing seven rebounds along the way and a bench high three assists. Despite the second unit clearly looking better this season, they haven't quite had the point totals to back it up, but they pulled out a solid for them 31 points, which seems a fair total given the rotations rarely leaving the bench on the floor without some guidance from the starting unit. Solomon Hill continues to struggle offensively while Orlando Johnson reversed a really poor start with a solid seven points.
The real bright spot has to be Chris Copeland, who stepped in and drilled a pair of three pointers in just two minutes. Sure, it's garbage time, but given Copeland's struggles to this point, seeing him starting to find a little bit of a groove with three three pointers in the last two contests, there's a little more incentive to look at Copeland as more than a human victory cigar should the Pacers be in a position to need a little extra offense.
While the Pacers snapped two streaks tonight by losing the third quarter and going above 100 for the first time all season, they kept the important streak alive by winning their ninth straight. The Pacers are one win away from tying their NBA record for most wins in a row, but will be faced with a monumental challenge when they face their divisional foe Chicago Bulls at the United Center tomorrow night. The Bulls haven't lost since the Pacers beat them a week ago, capping a healthy road win against Toronto with a less than healthy Derrick Rose sitting out with a hamstring. Clear the schedule; this isn't a game to miss.