The Indiana Pacers weren't playing up to their defensive identity in the first quarter against the Toronto Raptors, as Toronto scored a Pacers opponent season high 32 on 52% shooting, but outside of Rudy Gay keeping the Raptors afloat in the second quarter, the defense stepped up and put a stop to Toronto's shooting success from that point on. Indiana allowed just 27 points total in the second and third quarters with Toronto finishing below 40% shooting on the night, and scoring just 84 points on the night.
It took a minute for Paul George to get going. He was getting pretty well worked over by Rudy Gay in the first half. Gay had 22 on 9-13 shooting, with George lumbering to just five points on 2-10 shooting. Aside from a big block from Gay on George, the game thereon was won by George in the matchup. Despite his woes, George scored 17 points in the third quarter as part of his team high 23, overcoming his shooting struggles with nine free throw attempts. Even though he was struggling, George continued to do work elsewhere, leading the team with eight rebounds and six assists, also grabbing a pair of steals. In the second half, George helped to hold Gay to just eight points, most of which were scored late in the fourth quarter with the Raptors down double digits.
Roy Hibbert scored 20 points for the first time this season. With George struggling and options limited for the Pacers, Hibbert really stepped up in the first half with 12 points. He finished the night 9-14 from the floor, grabbing four offensive boards as part of seven on the night. His block total came into fruition late, knocking away two, still shockingly well below his season average.
Perhaps the biggest light shed on tonight's contest was the officiating disparity between him and backup Ian Mahimi. Mahinmi followed much of the same blueprint Hibbert uses to be the best defensive center in the NBA, but in 16 minutes, Mahinmi picked up four fouls while getting hammered and Hibbert wrapped the night up with zero fouls. There's certainly no room to complain about how Hibbert has been officiated, but it's quite surprising the ocean between he and Mahinmi in terms of respect.
The limited options for the Pacers in the first half were in part due to George's shooting and some David West foul trouble. West had nine points and five rebounds on the night, however, continuing to steady his shot on a solid 4-7 night. But it was the bruised knee injury to Lance Stephenson that put him out the first half that really changed the complexion of the game early for Indiana. Stephenson got the side of his knee hit with DeMar DeRozen in the first quarter, and a few seconds in the second quarter was all he was able to muster up for the rest of the half.
Stephenson walked through that door in the third quarter, helping to energize the Pacers in their 28-13 third quarter run that put them up heading into the fourth quarter. Stephenson had four points and four assists and still managed to play 29 minutes of action, but Stephenson's contributions certainly helped the team well beyond the box score. George Hill also returned to the lineup to help lift the Pacers through the first half. He scored 14 on 4-8 shooting, including 3-4 from deep. He appeared to move well and play well, minimizing concerns of his three game layoff.
The bench helped to push the Pacers back into the game in the second quarter, proving they're capable of doing more than blowing leads the starters built up. It's great to have an insurance policy in case the starters happen to stumble through the first quarter as they did tonight. Only three bench guys scored, but Mahinmi and Solomon Hill's defense was a catalyst for the team's success in the first half, despite Mahinmi's foul troubles.
Luis Scola led the bench with eight points, showing against Tyler Hansbrough that he was a clear upgrade over Hansbrough, who looked awfully familiar with his four points on 1-4 shooting and five rebounds. Orlando Johnson was key in the first half as well when spelling Stephenson, scoring seven, and C.J. Watson has been a nice player shooting the ball inside the three point arc with six, but missed all three of his three point attempts.
The third quarter has been Indiana's calling card throughout the season. Indiana has trailed in five of their six games this season, but are 6-0 in the third quarter, outscoring their opponents by 53 points and holding teams to just 18 points in period. It's helped catapult them to the franchise's second 6-0 start, but they'll have little time in relishing being the first team since 1970-71 to achieve it, as they'll have a quick turnaround tomorrow night in Brooklyn to face the Nets. The Nets lost in overtime to Washington, but despite their 0-3 road start, have appeared to be a completely different team at home, setting up a big test for Indiana to take on with their fourth game in five nights.