The Indiana Pacers came away with an exhilarating win over the Charlotte Hornets tonight, using a Solomon Hill second chance layup to put the Pacers into the win column for the fourth time in five games. The Pacers found themselves in a back and forth battle across the final four minutes of action, watching an eight point advantage disappear behind big play from Jason Maxiell.
The Hornets would move ahead 86-83 on a Kemba Walker three pointer with 2:15 remaining. Walker would fail to convert on Charlotte's following possession to push the lead to multiple possessions, setting up Luis Scola to come up with a big and one play against Al Jefferson, hitting a (rare) free throw to tie the game at 86. On Charlotte's final possession, Marvin Williams would miss a jumper, with Solomon Hill grabbing the rebound.
Rodney Stuckey returned to action tonight, holding out for an isolation in the game's final seconds. His shot fell short of the rim, but Hill was in place with the behind the back layup as the clock expired to send Indiana to the 88-86 win.
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Indiana had to work to put themselves in a late game situation. After leading 17-10 in the first quarter, the Hornets outscored Indiana 28-7 to go up by 14 points. Indiana would slowly chip away at the lead across the second and third quarters, finally breaking through on an 8-0 run late in the third to lead 61-59. The lead would be short lived with the Hornets jumping ahead 66-65 heading into the fourth quarter.
Solomon Hill may have hit the game winner, but had a fairly quiet night overall. He had six points and five boards, but did come up with four points and two boards in the game's final four minutes, giving Indiana the lead in each of his field goals. Hill did help in limiting Lance Stephenson's overall effectiveness in his return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, however.
Stephenson's return was met with muted cheers in the introduction, giving way to the boos Stephenson feared he'd hear. Stephenson's night featured some solid plays; he had a pair of jumpers in the first half and made a solid block on Roy Hibbert, but beyond that, his impact was minimal in the game's outcome despite filling up the stat sheet for 10 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
For Indiana, they were led by Hibbert, who scored 18 points on 7-14 shooting, 14 in the first half to keep the Pacers afloat. Hibbert also totaled his fourth double double of the season with 11 rebounds. Luis Scola had another fantastic game, scoring 15 points on 6-9 shooting, 11 coming in the second half, including a big three point play to tie the game at 86.
Scola hitting a big free throw late was particularly of note given he entered the game a woeful 6-15 from the free throw line. Scola, a career 75% free throw shooter was 3-4 from the line tonight, something that can hopefully trend his own free throw shooting, as well as Indiana's free throw shooting in a positive direction. The Pacers are 22nd in the league in FT%, and were just 16-24 tonight.
Rodney Stuckey returned to action tonight, coming up with 26 minutes of action, moving well and scoring 11 points, though doing so on just 5-13 shooting. Donald Sloan also reached double figures with 11 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. On a positive note, Indiana did a great job limiting three of their biggest issues this season; turnovers, points off turnovers, and fast break points.
The Pacers had just 12 turnovers on the night, and though they lost the points off turnover battle, they allowed only nine points. The Pacers also entered the game dead last in fast break point differential, and while they only had three points, the Hornets came away with just four. Charlotte was also held to 43% shooting, including a combined 9-27 from their starting backcourt of Stephenson and Walker.
Hill's game winning bucket was Indiana's first buzzer beater since Mike Dunleavy's game winner before Christmas on December 20, 2010, also against the Hornets, though of the New Orleans variety. Th ewin moves Indiana to 5-7 on the year, putting them in the playoff picture as the 8th seed in the East. Even without any real progress in terms of the team's injury problems, the Pacers have managed to stay afloat, mostly taking advantage of a forgiving opening stretch of games to not sink to the bottom of the standings.
But things will start to stiffen up for the Pacers. They'll host the Phoenix Suns on Saturday before going on the road for six of seven. Eight of their next 11 games will come against winning teams in addition to a game against Cleveland on the road. The Pacers deserve ample credit for getting as far as they've gone in their first 12 games, but the next 12 games will really set Indiana up for the rest of the season.