The Indiana Pacers keep plugging away, keep fighting, and keep winning as they improve to a franchise best start of 7-0 after dispatching of the Brooklyn Nets on the road 96-91. The Pacers not only set a franchise record tonight, but their seventh win in a row is their longest winning streak since April 2012. They needed to piece together a streak like this if they hoped to contend for a top seed in the East, and the win opens up a nice early three game lead after a pair of last second losses by Miami and Philadelphia.
Indiana jumped out to a 17-8 lead in the first five minutes before starting their second quarter lull early, dropping under 40% for the first quarter and not doing much to improve it through the second quarter. The Nets got valuable bench effort in the second to take a lead, fending off the Pacers heading into the half. The Pacers dropped behind at the break for the sixth time in seven games, and almost like clockwork, they blew through the doors of the third quarter on a 16-5 run to go up nine for the second time in the game.
The Pacers won the third quarter 28-21 to remain perfect in the deciding quarter, and it was once again due in large part to Paul George, who scored nine points in the quarter, including the go-ahead three pointer early in the third quarter. Indiana may not have relinquished the lead through the rest of the game, but that doesn't mean they didn't have to work for the victory. Every time Indiana would go up nine, the Nets would suddenly pull themselves up and draw the game within two possessions.
When Indiana finally broke through into a double digit lead late in the fourth, the Nets responded with a 7-0 run to put the game at three with just over three minutes left. A pair of George Hill free throws and David West winning a jump ball over Brook Lopez helped set up a George jumper that put Indiana back up seven. Brooklyn came back to within three, but turnovers for both teams proved to be the end result before West came through with an icy pair of free throws.
George led the Pacers with 24 points and six rebounds. He struggled again in the first half tonight, going just 2-7 from the field, but he hit a three pointer late in the second quarter, finishing the game shooting 7-8. After the game, Roy Hibbert told NBA TV that he had gotten some flak for calling for George to be an MVP candidate, but watching George overcome and fight through his struggles to not only play well, but to continuously lead his team to victory the way he has through his offense and his defense certainly puts him on that early watch list.
Hibbert himself came into tonight's game with an important matchup in limiting the effectiveness of Brook Lopez, the NBA's most lethal offensive center. Hibbert held Lopez to six points through three quarters. Lopez got his in the fourth quarter, but Hibbert had perhaps his best game on Lopez defensively, while also hitting some patented Lopez jumpers as part of his 15 & 11 double double, notching in two more blocks.
Four Pacers reached double figures, with West second on the team in scoring with 18. West was excellent tonight in taking advantage of Brooklyn's defensive rotations, getting plenty of great looks for his jumper, even dropping a three pointer for good measure. West was also big late in the game defensively as part of his two steals. His jump ball win over Lopez was a huge swing in the game as it gave Indiana an extra possession that allowed George to drill home the game sealing bucket.
There likely won't be too many inquiries about where West is, but there might be for the team's backcourt, particularly George Hill, who struggled with 1-6 shooting and appeared to be more content with dribbling out the clock than looking for a shot. Dan Burke wasn't shy at talking the team's over-dribbling coming out of the half and they were much more fluid in the second half, as they have been throughout the year.
Hill did add seven assists to his total, being joined with seven assists by Lance Stephenson, who did have his shot going, scoring 15 on 7-12 shooting in his Brooklyn homecoming. The Nets bench flexed their muscles early, but Indiana's bench was stout when it had to be. Luis Scola has continued to be a key player in Indiana's fourth quarters, scoring six points on the night and getting a key block late. Orlando Johnson had four and C.J. Watson hit a pair of big three pointers in his return to Brooklyn.
The Pacers completed a four game in five night stretch, but they're not done yet and will cap off five games in seven nights when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night. The Grizzlies just finished shutting down the sharpshooting Warriors, holding them to 13 points in the fourth quarter. The target on Indiana's back is only getting bigger with their fast start, and a proud Memphis team that is by all accounts Indiana's Western Conference smash-mouth twin won't shy away from any challenge on Monday.