Suddenly, the Indiana Pacers have national momentum and an identity within that momentum. A pair of statement wins against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference in which the Pacers limited those teams to their lowest scoring outputs of the season has opened a lot of eyes about just how good Indiana is and have been defensively this season. And for good reason. Indiana had spent the season building up their defense to be a safety net for their offensive woes, but in how they beat Miami and then tonight the New York Knicks, two of the league's best offensive teams, it feels like something else entirely.
The win is Indiana's ninth under 90 points and for good measure, no other NBA team has more than three, showing just how important defense has been for one of the league's worst offenses. While the Knicks were short Carmelo Anthony, the Pacers accepted no excuses, stepping up defensively to make sure no one was going to fill in his role. J.R. Smith had 25 points on 10-29 shooting, largely frustrated and cancelled out by a focused and determined Paul George, who had a gaudy night of 24 points, 11 boards, six steals, and five assists. George had 17 second half points, another second half explosion to make a statement, and suddenly, young George has found himself in the All-Star discussion, according to Reggie Miller.
In a very physical game that had all the feeling of the classic Pacers/Knicks showdowns, the Pacers led most of the way, but the Knicks capitalized on 19 offensive rebounds to take a lead into the fourth quarter until an 18-2 run early in the final period put the game back in Indiana's favor for good. Indiana forced the Knicks into 13 turnovers that they converted into 19 points, also limiting the Knicks to a season low in three point shots (4) and their second lowest shooting night of the year (34.6%).
It was a well-rounded effort from the Pacers outside of Paul, with Ian Mahinmi's big fourth quarter earning him 13 points on 6-7 shooting for the night. Mahinmi came up big tonight to spell time for Roy Hibbert, who left the game twice with back spasms. Hibbert had a quiet four point night, but his three in the middle of a 13-3 Knicks run helped break up what would've been a five minute scoring drought and a monster block on Tyson Chandler that sent him out of the game ended up being the tipping point in Indiana's fourth quarter run.
Also joining the fray was Jeff Pendergraph, who was a big boost with six first half points. Gerald Green had seven, scoring a three pointer on the possession following Hibbert's block to break up the 62 all tie. Tyler Hansbrough was physical with six points early. For those keeping track, that's 32 bench points for Indiana, a team that has had its fair share of bench struggles this season.
George Hill was a go despite his bronchitis and while a shell of his self, managed the game well with six points, four assists, and four rebounds despite a pair of turnovers. Lance Stephenson was big part of the Pacers game tonight early as he scored nine points to go with seven rebounds and four dimes of his own. David West spent the night getting the short end of the stick from the whistles, but had six points, five rebounds, and three blocks and surprisingly, no technical fouls.
The win moves Indiana to within a game and a half of the Knicks for second place in the East, 22-14 overall, 14-3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and is their ninth straight win at home and third overall. The next test will be that of the trap variety when the Pacers will try to avoid a letdown when they host the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night as they begin to dig into a six game in nine night stretch.