While every quarter between the Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns had a unique flair tonight, they each followed the same template, one where the Suns fought the Pacers tooth and nail and never once backed down. In the first quarter, Roy Hibbert led the Pacers back from a 6-0 Phoenix start and used a 12-0 run to claim a lead they wouldn't relinquish despite numerous Phoenix surges throughout the game.
Michael Beasley and the hot shooting Suns in the second quarter were countered by Lance Stephenson to give Indiana an eight point halftime edge. In the second half, Markieff Morris and a foul fest gave Phoenix life in the third quarter before a late surge by Indiana while a game of runs and Jermaine O'Neal and Goran Dragic drew Phoenix within a point in the game's final three minutes.
The conclusion was somewhat fitting for Indiana, who closed the game on hustle plays and free throws, the latter looked like the furthest from a sure thing when the Pacers opened the game 6-15 from the line. But they , missing just two from that point on (not counting George Hill's 1-2 cooler trip). The fouls led to 46 free throw attempts for the Pacers, who ended up making 34 on the night. Hustle plays were a key factor of Indiana's success in holding off Phoenix, outrebounding the Suns by 10, and grabbing 19 offensive rebounds, including four Pacers grabbing four.
Gragic was a big part of Phoenix's success tonight, his 21 & 9 assists were part of a Phoenix offense that shot over 50% for much the game, scored a rare 100 on Indiana's defense, and had seven double figure scorers. While the Suns got a lot of their offense on catch and shoot midrange jumpers, they did a tremendous job taking it directly at the teeth of the Indiana defense, getting 40 in the paint. All of it meant a game that was bound to be tight late, even after Indiana had come out on top in every quarter leading into the fourth.
Paul George was big throughout the night, finishing the game with 25 points on a cool 7-14 shooting, coming up with four steals and getting to the free throw line 12 times. While George has become the go-to player on the floor, it hasn't been frequently he's simply come through. That's not to discount his play on the year, which has been an incredible step forward, but getting the kind of game sealing effort the Pacers got from Paul tonight is still in its infancy, and was necessary in closing out a hard-fought Phoenix team.
Lance Stephenson joined all five starters in double figures, with 16 points, grabbing three steals, including the defensive dagger on Goran Dragic that not only came up with the possession, but led to Dragic fouling out, effectively ending Phoenix's effectiveness in closing out the contest. Not only was Stephenson a key part of Indiana's success throughout the night, but he found success with his jumper, looking confident and keyed in.
Roy Hibbert led the Pacers early with 12 first quarter points, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds. Despite the strong start, including taking it directly at Jermaine O'Neal on both sides before O'Neal got his in the second half, Hibbert found himself in foul trouble in the foul happy third quarter, limiting his effectiveness despite another solid all around night from the big fella.
In his second game back, David West still appeared a little out of sync, but came to play with some key stretches that led to his 14 point and seven board night. George Hill rounded out the starters with 15 points, getting to the charity stripe seven times. The bench didn't offer an extensive punch, but got some nice efforts from D.J. Augustin, who led the bench with eight, Ian Mahinmi, and Tyler Hansbrough's stat-padding rebounding effort, that is, according to Hibbert.
The win was rewarding for just how the Pacers managed to close this out in the face of a Suns team Goran Dragic had running at peak efficiency, including some big nights from their ensemble. The win was just Indiana's fourth on the year when allowing an opponent to score over 100, but just the second time an opponent has gotten had that kind of success in the past 23 games. The win not only moves Indiana back into second place in the East, but gets them to 3-0 on their West Coast road trip, as part of four wins overall.
As well, they're suddenly just one game under .500 on the road at 18-19 after their 1-6 start, and at 47-27, are 20 games over .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, inching the magic number to clinch the Central Division to three.The Pacers will wrap up this current West Coast trip at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night for a late 10:30 ET tip. Indiana will be looking for revenge on Los Angeles after taking on a home loss on February 28 without Roy Hibbert.