While the early season matchups between the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors can largely be written off, there's no accident the two teams have played so tightly this season, including Toronto's most recent win at Bankers Life, but following a tough loss to the Clippers without Roy Hibbert, the Pacers made sure there was no room for error tonight, using a 19-4 run at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth to put the game out of reach for potential Toronto surges.
One of the things that made things difficult in last night's game was Indiana's inability to win a quarter. Losing ground in every 12-minute "game" will make any fourth quarter push that much tougher and Toronto was in that exact position tonight, with the Pacers winning the first half quarters 17-13 and 22-21. The Pacers won the third quarter 25-17, and while garbage time turnovers allowed Toronto to eke out a 30-29 "win," Toronto's inability to make up ground in more than short stretches really allowed Indiana to seal the game quickly.
Paul George was a key part of Indiana's success late, scoring 18 in the second half, 11 of the team's 19 in their 19-4 run, including three three pointers in a two and a half minute stretch. George finished with 22 & 10 to lead the Pacers to the win, but visible frustration with the officiating could've ended his night on technical fouls against, well, maybe any other crew. The officiating tonight was unfortunate. It never really affected the outcome of the game, but both teams had to fight through a lot of inconsistent and frustrating whistles.
Dismissing the frustrating whistles, the Pacers were more than glad to have big man Roy Hibbert back in the fold. Roy shot 7-10 from the floor, scoring 18 points in his return. The Pacers saw the exact things they were missing last night from Roy tonight in his defense around the rim, in addition to a couple hustle plays saving possessions. Indiana allowed Toronto to score just 30 points in the paint, a huge victory of last night's 50. In fact, defense as a whole was stellar in limiting the effectiveness of Toronto's starters in particular. Rudy Gay led the way with 21, but no other starter reached double figures, only DeMar DeRozen getting close.
David West had a much better shooting night, going 6-11 for 15 points with 11 rebounds, more than excited to attack Andrea Bargnani whenever he got the ball. George Hill's recent hot shooting came to an end on a 2-8 night, missing his first four three point attempts on a 1-6 night. Foul trouble limited Lance Stephenson's effectiveness, and Orlando Johnson, who has come back down to earth after a stretch of incredible success, had a nice drive that can hopefully give him a boost.
Danny Granger was the leader of the bench unit with eight points on 3-5 shooting in 10 minutes of action. Granger was sat out the second half as to not overwork him on the second night of a back to back, but looking at him still leading the bench in scoring in just ten minutes, and Stephenson prone to a less than stellar night like tonight, it may not be a bad idea to keep working with Granger in the second unit. The offense out of the gates was pitiful enough as is for both teams, but Indiana getting their best offense from Granger was exactly the kind of thing the Pacers could use to shake up a slow start from the starters or to keep their offense from slipping into a seemingly every night lull.
All in all, the Pacers did what they needed to do in avoiding a second straight loss, grabbing the win and improving to 14-16 on the year away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. A New York win means they remain in third place in the East, but there's no reason to throw up any flags of concern with 24 games remaining in the regular season. The Pacers will take the national stage on Sunday night when they face the Chicago Bulls at home on ESPN. A win would give Indiana the season series win, something they could use if they hope to not only remain one of the top two or three teams in the East, but in closing in on a Central Division title.