With 6:37 remaining in the first quarter, the Indiana Pacers found themselves down double figures, a sluggish start lending nine points to Derrick Favors, as the Utah Jazz jumped ahead 16-6, setting the script for the game in quick Utah starts thwarted by strong Pacers runs to close the gap. The Pacers used a 12-0 run to take a 21-18 lead before Trey Burke scored late to trim the Indiana lead to a point heading into the second quarter.
Utah jumped all over Indiana in the second quarter, hitting nine of their first 11 shots of the quarter to once again push the lead into double figures at 40-28 with 5:37 remaining in the half. But Indiana again closed the gap, responding with a 14-1 run to take a 42-41 lead, as the Jazz failed to hit a field goal for the rest of the half. They hit five free throws to close the quarter to take a 46-45 advantage.
The strong close to the half favored the Jazz, as they began the second half on a 7-0 run to go up 53-45. The Pacers found their way out of the hole, eventually taking a 60-58 lead on a Ian Mahinmi three point play. The Pacers built up their lead to six points in the quarter, eventually to eight points halfway through the fourth quarter before the Jazz began their own comeback. With the Indiana lead at 89-86, Paul George split a pair of free throws with 13 seconds remaining, as Gordon Hayward drilled in a three pointer to cut the lead to one.
Indiana without a time out managed to inbound the ball, with Evan Turner giving Indiana a 94-91 lead. The Jazz found Hayward heading towards the basket, his good look from three going a bit long, allowing Indiana to seal the 94-91 win over Utah, giving them their fifth straight victory. Hayward finished with 21 points to lead the Jazz, as he kept Utah alive in the late stretches of the game. The Pacers allowed the Jazz to fight through all 48 minutes, giving them 46.2% field goal shooting, including 10 offensive rebounds as the Jazz outrebounded Indiana 44-42.
The Pacers managed to close out the win in large part to 18 Utah turnovers, 10 of them steals by the Pacers, but had to work with a lack of timeouts due to injuries suffered by Paul George and Ian Mahinmi. George took a hard fall on his back and Mahinmi fell hard on his arm. Both players continued to play, but George seemed to have some level of concern for the injury as he headed towards the locker room.
With George Hill sitting out a second straight game, the Pacers once again turned to C.J. Watson, who played much better tonight, scoring 13 points on 5-8 shooting with five assists and three steals. Frank Vogel opted to play Watson more in part due to his better play, but also due to the struggles of Evan Turner, who was just 2-9 with eight points. Turner did hit the free throws to give Indiana a three point lead, but struggles shooting and a continuous wish to do so didn't offer Indiana much.
Lance Stephenson also struggled shooting the ball, going 4-12 for 11 points, but did have eight rebounds and five assists. Three of Stephenson's assists came as part of an 11-0 Pacers run that took them down six to up five, including a pair of great finds to Watson for his two three pointers. The one basket in that stretch that wasn't assisted by Stephenson was a miss that led to a Mahinmi three point play.
Mahinmi played exceptionally well tonight, scoring nine points, with seven rebounds and three blocks, his energy carrying the Pacers during his time on the floor. His play was a huge boost given the struggles of Roy Hibbert, who lumbered through foul trouble on a 1-9, two point effort. The Pacers when Mahinmi was on the floor were a +15 while Hibbert's night resulted in a -15.
Whether the foul trouble, the second night of a back-to-back, or something else entirely, it was a bit of a surprise to see Hibbert struggle given his positive play recently, but the Pacers were fortunate to have Mahinmi play at such a high level tonight, continuing his own recent level of play.
David West led the Pacers with a quiet 25 points, putting the Pacers on his back and having a direct scoring hand all three of Indiana's comebacks on the night. In fact, 16 of his points came when Indiana was trailing, but hardly as garbage points, West was the reliability the Pacers needed all night as they slumped their way early through quarters. He was 11-17 on the night with six rebounds.
West's play was a big boost given Paul George's early shooting struggles. As a whole, George struggled from the floor, going 6-16, but managed to get to the line 10 times, hitting nine of his free throws. George had six rebounds, four assists, and two steals, scoring 22 points with half of them coming in the third quarter. George's hard fall managed to leave him in the game, but as he explained afterwards, him staying in had in part to do with fear of his back stiffening up.
The injuries to George and Mahinmi appear to be, at least on the surface, as day-to-day ordeals, but without further confirmation, we won't know about the availability of the two moving forward as the Pacers host the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Hill was a game-time decision tonight, making his return seem possible for Tuesday night, but Indiana would have to dig deep to pull out a win against a very talented Warriors team without George or Mahinmi.
In the meantime, tonight's win wraps up Indiana's fifth straight win as they move to 46-13 on the season. It is Indiana's fifth five game winning streak of the season after completing just three last year. They've had their last two five game winning streaks this season halted at five, however. Their magic number to clinch the playoffs sits at just one, with Indiana having a chance to clinch while idle tomorrow night if the New York Knicks can upset the Detroit Pistons on the road.