Despite entering the game as the NBA's worst shooting team at just 41%, the Charlotte Bobcats showed no signs of offensive struggle, taking it straight at the Indiana Pacers, nearly managing to create a long weekend of second guessing for Pacers fans. But as Lance Stephenson stated in the post game, he made an incredible move on an incredible play just looking to get his team the win. Regardless of what specific play Stephenson was referring to, his play throughout the night was the kind of pick-me-up effort the Pacers needed on a night Paul George had his worst night of the season.
There was little to talk about with George, who simply had a really bad night. Part was due to two first half fouls limiting his opportunities early, but he made little headway in the second half, shooting an ugly 2-12 from the floor for just 10 points. That led to a big night from Stephenson, leading the Pacers in most major categories as part of a 20 point, 11 rebound double double. He also had seven assists and two steals as his mid range game was spot on, going 5-7 in the 15-20 foot range.
Stephenson's play was exactly what Indiana needed on a night the Bobcats kept the heat on the scoreboard. The Pacers appeared in control after jumping up 16-6 in the first quarter, but Charlotte's ability to knock down shots, get to the line, and close out quarters strong created opportunities for them late. End of quarter buckets can be big swings in games, and stood up tonight with Charlotte outscoring Indiana 7-0 in those plays heading into the final period with the game 79-76 Pacers after the third.
The Bobcats held a 90-89 advantage with just over five minutes remaining in the game, but Stephenson led the charge on a three point play that allowed Indiana to wrap up the night on a 10-4 run. The Pacers went to David West offensively against Josh McRoberts and forced a pair of stops from Al Jefferson on the other end to close out the win. Roy Hibbert and Jefferson had a good matchup all night as Jefferson scored 21 points and grabbed nine boards with Hibbert grabbing his own 18 & 11 double double, while adding three blocks to his night.
Hibbert was able to come out with the head-to-head win thanks to his abilities in the final two minutes, after Jefferson cut the Indiana lead to two with two minutes left, in forcing Jefferson in a pair of bad shots with Charlotte having a chance to tie on both shots. After Jefferson made the game 96-94 with 2:13 to go, the Bobcats missed their next four opportunities, a good thing as well, given Indiana's own ability to push the lead back to four.
The Pacers got plenty of all around play outside of Hibbert and Stephenson to help guide them towards the win, with George Hill putting forth some solid minutes. He had 13 points on 4-7 shooting, including a trio of triples, but also had three blocks for his effort. David West was a big part of Indiana's ability to close out the win with his ability to frustrate Josh McRoberts, scoring four of his 14 in the final four minutes.
Luis Sscola led the bench with 11 points, but the surprise of the night came from Rasual Butler, who found himself in the rotation, playing heavy minutes in the first half, scoring eight points on 3-5 shooting. Butler appeared to get his spot in the rotation in part due to Orlando Johnson's extended struggles, but also as a feeler for Danny Granger's (hopefully) impending return. Butler played much in the same way Granger should be expected to play, though there should be hope Granger will make a greater defensive impact than Butler did (Butler did have two blocks, however), also whether Granger will make similar decisions Butler did in passing out of okay looks to find better shots.
Indiana wasn't able to run away from Charlotte tonight as they were on November 27th, but Charlotte has found themselves in late game situations similar to this one in recent weeks, but have had trouble closing out, falling to 1-6 in their last seven games played within ten points. Despite shooting well around 10% above their average most of the night, however, they didn't look to be playing well over their heads (except for maybe Ramon Sessions going 2-2 from three point range), giving them at least some hope moving forward. After getting blown wide open by West in the previous meeting, Cody Zeller looked much better tonight, giving hope to Indiana fans for his own prospects moving forward.
The Pacers move to 20-3 on the year to stay the league's best while improving to 11-0 at home. They'll have another chance to stay perfect at Bankers Life Fieldhouse when they host the Detroit Pistons on Monday. The Pistons held on late at home against Brooklyn, getting a pair of big nights from their big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.