Things took a little longer to close out tonight despite the Indiana Pacers going up 19 in the fourth quarter. The Detroit Pistons had cut the lead to five before David West's layup helped wrap up a 99-91 victory for the Pacers as they remain the NBA's lone undefeated team at 4-0. The Pacers were in great shape early as Paul George lifted the team to a 29-14 first quarter lead behind 12 points, but the second quarter woes were in full force as the bench failed to make any push forward, putting the Pacers in a hole heading into the break behind 4-19 shooting and just nine second quarter points.
There was a lot going wrong in the second quarter and the bench was at the center of it. Without George Hill for a second straight game, Donald Sloan was forced into a larger role spelling C.J. Watson, and Will Bynum did a great job early in the second of forcing into uncomfortable situations, which the Pistons used to capitalize a 25-9 quarter, keeping the turnover issue alive by forcing nine in the first half. The Pistons closed the half on a 10-0 run to take a 41-38 halftime lead, putting the Pacers behind for the third time in four games this season.
But as has been the case through the first four games, the Pacers blitzed the Pistons in the third quarter, using an 11-0 run and 14 points from George as part of a 36-point quarter. Detroit climbed to within four early in the fourth quarter, but Indiana responded with an 18-3 to put the game at 19. The Pacers appeared to have smooth sailing from there, but Detroit deserves a lot of credit for fighting back to come within five and especially forcing Indiana's starters to go the full 48 with a lack of trust in tonight's bench unit running the show without some starter help.
If it comes back and haunts the Pacers late in tomorrow night's game against Chicago, it creates an interesting talking point, but no lead is ever safe in the NBA, and a few extra minutes of rest won't make up for a potential loss for a team that expects to contend for the Eastern Conference's top spot. Indiana held off Detroit, however, passing their biggest test of the young season and did exactly what they've done to this point in playing strong in the second half to put the game away.
Though a series of late game turnovers inflated the final total of turnovers at 18, Indiana only had four in the second half when the game was being put out of reach for the Pistons, creating a rather nice template for Indiana to follow, or hopefully follow, as they move forward in the season. Perhaps the bigger concern throughout the night was Indiana's free throw shooting. They amassed 23 attempts on the night, making just 14 for a woeful 60.9 percentage. As a team, they only shot two in the entire first half, a pair of late half bricks from Roy Hibbert that set the tone for the night when the Pacers managed to get there with more frequency in the second half.
While the Pistons are big, like really really big, it was their smaller second unit that gave them more fits, with Kyle Singler grabbing and hustling his way to 13 points, getting to the line eight times on his own. Their shiny free agent acquisitions Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings shot their way to 11-36, 2-12 from three point range, helping the Pacers to corral a few extra boards en route to their own 53% shooting effort.
Paul George led the way for the Pacers in just about everything imaginable. His 12-18 shooting night (including 80% within the three point arc) really just overwhelms the senses of any self serving Pacers fan, who really can't think of a Pacers player with a shot so consistently confident. There might not be a player in the NBA who's shooting the ball with more ease outside of Oakland, California right now than George.
George had 31 on the night as he grabbed 10 boards for his second straight double double. He also had four assists and four steals to lead Indiana towards the W. It's not even as if George is just putting up numbers; he's making the most of his play and guiding his team to wins. Sure it's early, and four games is hardly enough to pull any real impressions, but George has looked far better than most would've anticipated for him heading into the season.
Lance Stephenson has been George's primary running mate, but some early shooting woes and a by-the-letter flagrant foul set the bar fairly low until he exploded with a nice run that ended with 10 points. Stephenson contests he scored enough to get paid, but his seven assists and six rebounds were certainly a nice addition. Stephenson did have five turnovers, and was the only starter to come up with a negative + / -. He wasn't much of a note at times, but still came through for some solid plays and stretches to help the Indiana cause.
C.J. Watson did a solid job in Hill's starting spot again tonight, scoring 15 points and dishing out five assists despite foul troubles catching up to him through the night. Donald Sloan as the backup to the backup was a little rockier throughout the night, but did play well in his runs late in the game. But as a whole, the bench on their own was without much merit. Every bench player seemed to add something to the game, but every positive came while playing with starters and being set up in that fashion). Luis Scola had a couple of big buckets in the fourth, Solomon Hill hit his first three pointer, and Orlando Johnson punched in a nice five. Hopefully a return of George Hill will help calm the waters of the bench unit with Watson offering a better leadership option than Sloan or an erratic Stephenson.
Roy Hibbert had another near triple double line, scoring eight points (though he left some on the floor), grabbing ten rebounds, and being a second half force defensively, taking away seven blocks for his efforts. Hibbert's respect on defense has been a huge asset for the Pacers. While he did suffer foul trouble against New Orleans that helped shape that game early the way it did, his ability through the other three games to stay on the floor and be a presence has allowed the Pacers to take the early note as the NBA's top defensive team.
Speaking of defense, when Detroit totaling 91 points on 37.9% shooting is a defensive low point in your season, you have to feel awfully good about where you're at, especially heading into a nationally televised matchup against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls at 1-2 have been highlighted by a struggling Derrick Rose, but the Pacers know better than to trust the numbers when it comes to a Chicago team that will go all out against their divisional opponent, not divisional rival.