The Indiana Pacers haven't done a great job this season winning on the road against playoff caliber opponents, and have done just as poorly recently in closing close games out, making tonight's road win against the Houston Rockets a great one to pick up. The Pacers went into Houston looking for the season sweep against the Rockets, leading wire to wire, holding off every Houston push, and at times dominating the game. There's no better way to start off a West Coast trip than with a win, and Indiana did just that.
Indiana had one of their best first quarters to open the game with a 35-19 advantage, doing so by dominating the paint, stifling the Rockets' offense, and going through their front line in Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough. Houston found footing in the second quarter to slowly close the gap behind big interior play from Greg Smith and Thomas Robinson, who grabbed all of Houston's offensive boards in the first half. But when the Rockets surged, pulling the game to four or six points, Indiana was there to push the lead back to double figures, time and time again.
In the third quarter, the Pacers felt like they were a step behind Houston the entire time, but still gained ground on the Rockets by the time the buzzer sounded. In the fourth, they overcame a sluggish start as Roy Hibbert took control of the game, as Paul George and George Hill came up with big shots late to put the game out of reach.
Hibbert was the catalyst for Indiana tonight, especially late. He finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds, also totaling three blocks, two coming in back to back shot attempts with the game very much in the balance. The big fella played hard tonight, and helped shape the game in a positive manner, improving on his recent success, helping guide the Pacers to the win on his back, and he was clearly beat when this one was over.
Lance Stephenson provided ample support for Hibbert, scoring 21 points on 9-14 shooting, really bowling over the Houston defense when Indiana was able to run, but was also very keen in hitting his shots tonight. With George Hill returning to the lineup and struggling, and Paul George keying a majority of his energy on defense, it was imperative for Indiana to have a secondary scorer, and Stephenson provided that in a big way tonight.
Tyler Hansbrough had 10 first quarter points as part of his 16 & 8 night, really helping Indiana to open up their 19-point first quarter lead, and continuing to play impressive ball in David West's absence. Paul George struggled shooting, going 4-17, but was a key part in making James Harden's night as frustrating as possible, holding Harden to 4-26 shooting, although he did wrap up with 22 points.
George did score 16 on the night, including a late three pointer to help minimize the advantage Harden might have on the scoreboard. Hill returned to the lineup, but shot just 1-11 from the field, hitting the all-purpose dagger on his 11th attempt. While he shot poorly, he didn't look terribly hampered by his groin injury, helping to hold Jeremy Lin to eight points.
The bench did a fair job tonight, led by a pair of Orlando Johnson three pointers, and while they didn't do well on the scoreboard, scoring just 17 total, they made enough plays to not send themselves into the negative for the night, despite big efforts from Greg Smith and Thomas Robinson. Of course, the bench wasn't the problem against Smith, who had 18 points and 19 rebounds, frustrating the Pacers with seven offensive boards.
Indiana has a quick turnaround on the road, tipping off tomorrow in Dallas against the Mavericks. There is potential for more players to return to the floor against a Mavs team that a close eye on a playoff spot with the regular season winding down, but will have an opportunity to grab a win tomorrow despite that.
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