The Indiana Pacers continue to simply play it by the book. Night in and night out they might not have the best first half, but they've ratcheted it up in the second half and have been able to put teams away without too much sweat off of their brow. The result is a 15-1 record after the first full month of the 2013-14 NBA season. It's their sixth straight win, and their third straight holding an opponent under 90 points all while improving to 9-0 at home.
Heading into the season, the talk of the Eastern Conference's top seed meant the Pacers had to win these kinds of games. Not to discount the Washington Wizards as an opponent, but them being understandably shorthanded despite John Wall running all over teams recently, the Pacers had to take care of business. If trap games are real, this team hasn't seen them. They weren't clouded by the huge Western road trip that starts on Sunday. They simply took care of business and wore down the Wizards over 48 minutes tonight, something they've done over the course of the season.
The Pacers played well out of the gate tonight, a minor surprise, jumping out 28-14 after one on a 17-2 tear, but gave most of it back in the second quarter as Washington used a 10-0 run of their own to keep the game in single figures. Indiana began to open up things in the second half after a 36% shooting first half. Credit goes to the Wizards defense, which was far from impressive, but the Pacers simply kept building and building their lead. If you weren't watching the scoreboard, you wouldn't have realized they turned a seven-point lead into a 23-point one into the fourth quarter.
The team was on triple double watch as Lance Stephenson had some impressive passes turn into an 11 rebound and 10 assist double double. He was saddled with five points as the team tried to compile the five extra points necessary for his third triple-double of the season. But as soon as he tried to force the issue by playing well covered hero ball, he was sent to the bench with seven points and eight turnovers. Stephenson's dejection on the bench was a minor concern, but his selfless post-game interview was far more encouraging.
It's not really fair to fault Stephenson too much on the immediate reactions as he first sat on the bench. In all walks off life there are measures of disappointment when things don't go exactly your way, even if we come to appreciate the result regardless. Amid "We want Lance!" chants at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (which I was less a fan of), he seemed to understand that and accept the greater team goal over the flashy individual one that led him to saying it was the right move for him to sit.
Paul George led the way for the Pacers with 23. He had nine first quarter points, and found his way in the second half with 14. He also led the team in steals with four on a night the Pacers had 12 team steals. Indiana forced 18 Wizards turnovers, which helped set the tone of the game early, as Indiana outscored Washington 26-11 in points off turnovers. Every rotation player got a steal except Stephenson, just as every rotation player scored for the team.
Roy Hibbert turned his game around in a big way after a woeful 0-5 shooting first half. He struggled against Washington's frontline of Marcin Gortat and Jan Vesely, but made greater strides in the second as he scored 13 on the night and 4-5 in the second half. He also led the Pacers on the offensive glass with four. Indiana allowed just one offensive rebound in the second half, which has been a major point of concern for the Pacers despite them winning in spite of that.
George Hill was aggressive with 13 points on 4-16 shooting. Some of the best defensive the Wizards played all night was letting Hill brick off an open three pointer, with him shooting 2-8 deep. The Pacers did have nine three pointers on the night, however, with Solomon Hill hitting a pair of first half triples. Luis Scola once again led the bench with eight as C.J. Watson scored seven, including a big three pointer on Stephenson's best dime of the night. And we know a highlight is only a highlight if the play is finished.
While Gortat and Trevor Ariza each reached double figures with 17 & 14 respectively, the Pacers did a tremendous job limiting the effectiveness of John Wall. Wall made plays with nine assists, but was held to just eight points on 4-14 shooting. Wall entered the game playing well off the swag meter, with a 33 points per game average on 61% shooting before scoring "just" 19 against Milwaukee on Wednesday. Wall scored 37 on Indiana this past spring, making him a huge point of emphasis for the Indiana defense, and once they took him away, the Wizards had very few options to keep the Wizards in the game as the second half wore on.
So that means Indiana moves to a league best 15-1 after the 93-73 victory, setting them up for a massive test out West. The Pacers will begin a five game road trip on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Clippers. The 3:30 Eastern tip will be the start of a trip that includes games in Portland, Utah, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. As if that weren't enough, Miami will be waiting when Indiana comes home. The legitimacy of the Pacers' early season success will be on the line in this very challenging stretch, but the NBA is more fun this way, right?