The Indiana Pacers haven't been entirely spot on in the first half this season. While they led tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was the first time in the young season that they had left at the break. The Cavaliers proved to be a tough team to put away early, Pacers turnovers breathing life into Cleveland, who trailed just seven heading into the fourth quarter. But the fourth quarter has proved to be a force for the Pacers, opening the quarter on a 17-6 run to blow the game wide open and lead by 18.
The Pacers would end up winning the fourth quarter 27-19, moving their fourth quarter totals on the season to 91-66 outscoring their opponents by 25 points in three games. That number swells to +42 for the second half as a whole, showing just the kind of work the Pacers have put together for the second half of games, having not lost a second half quarter yet. The two man tandem of Paul George and Lance Stephenson has proved a key component in their second half success, and the two were in full force tonight. George and Stephenson each scored 13 in the second half as part of their 21 & 22 point respective nights.
Stephenson had the game high 22, his night including five three pointers in seven attempts. While he wasn't as sharp in playmaking and defending, he still came through when the Pacers needed to put their foot down. All 13 of his second half points actually game in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 as part of Indiana's 17-6 run to open the fourth. He did this with the second unit, finally opening up as the leader and floor general with the second unit, who pieced together a helpful effort.
Orlando Johnson had a bench high seven points. He got there on just 2-7 shooting, but his six rebounds helped pave the way for the second unit to really push the game in Indiana's favor. Ian Mahinmi had seven rebounds, Solomon Hill got his first two NBA buckets, and even Rasual Butler rained in a triple. Donald Sloan got time tonight as the backup point guard with George Hill out with a sore left hip and appeared more than capable of pulling his weight in an emergency role.
C.J. Watson jumped into the starting lineup and provided a steady seven points, six assists, four rebounds, and zero turnovers to help the Indiana cause even if his shooting numbers weren't great. Watson posting zero turnovers was a pleasant surprise given Indiana once again coughing the ball up with abandon, committing 21 turnovers on the night. They ended up winning the points off turnover battle 20-18, but it's a concern with how lackadaisical the Pacers have been with the ball. Cleveland did a fantastic job tonight forcing turnovers with timely swipes at the ball; recording 15 steals.
Paul George was one of two Pacers with four turnovers, which remains a lingering concern amidst a wildly impressive opening campaign. George had 21 points, breaking 20 points for the third time this season, including recording the Pacers' first double double of the season, grabbing 13 rebounds. George's ability to break the defense and attack the basket for an easy dunk has proven to be nothing short of remarkable, it's hard to not rub your eyes in disbelief watching him break through defenses multiple times a night. He only got to the line twice tonight, but still had a near 50% shooting night at 8-17.
Only three Pacers reached double figures, with Roy Hibbert getting to 11, but Indiana's defensive presence, holding Cleveland to just 34.7% shooting and 3-15 from three point range, created plenty of room for Indiana to work. As good as Indiana has been in the second half this year, tonight was the first time they held an opponent under 40 in the second half. Cleveland only broke 20 points once in a quarter tonight, being held to 74 points, a stellar number for Indiana's defensive notes.
Indiana will get another couple of days off to enjoy their 3-0 start before a tough back-to-back presents itself starting Tuesday with a visit to the Palace of Auburn Hills to face the new look Detroit Pistons, followed by a home fare against the 1-2 Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, who will be trying to use the Pacers as an opportunity rinse themselves clean of the stink of Derrick Rose's fourth quarter against Philadelphia.