The Indiana Pacers were brought with positive news in the form of George Hill making his season debut after missing nearly two months of action. The result was not only a basketball lift for the Pacers with how Hill played tonight, but also appeared to be an emotional lift for a Pacers team that looked as sharp on both sides of the ball as they have in a long time.
The New Orleans Pelicans controlled matters early, leading 18-11, but a solid first quarter from C.J. Miles helped push Indiana to within two at 22-20. With George Hill in the game, however, the tide appeared to shift in Indiana's direction, with one of his buckets breaking the Pacers into the lead early in the second quarter. The defensive intensity lifted throughout the first half, culminating in the Pacers holding New Orleans scoreless through the final 3:58 of the half.
Indiana's defensive play was led by Roy Hibbert, who recorded seven first half blocks, being a force around the rim and helping to limit the effectiveness of Anthony Davis. Indiana led by four at the half, with the Pelicans drawing to within a point before Solomon Hill kicked off a 13-2 run to move Indiana ahead 65-53. Indiana would manage to maintain their lead well into the fourth quarter, before a mini run fueled by Davis gave New Orleans some life late, down just five.
C.J. Watson would hit a big jumper to push the lead to seven and New Orleans's inability to convert allowed Indiana to close the game out in a 96-84 final, giving Indiana their first two game winning streak since November 19 and just their third set of back-to-back wins of the season. Of course, aside from Indiana getting their 10th win of the season, the real positive was how they came away with the win.
Whether George Hill related or not, the Pacers really haven't looked this sharp in quite some time. The Indiana defense was smothering in stretches tonight, with Roy Hibbert leading the way with seven first half blocks. The Pacers had 12 blocks on the night, but also picked up nine steals. Indiana had just nine turnovers on the night. The Pacers reached 50% shooting for the second straight game, while simultaneously holding the Pelicans under 40% shooting (39.8%, but still).
George Hill's play was certainly a welcome commodity however, with him leading the team in scoring with 15 points on 5-8 shooting. While he labored to get through his 21 minutes of game action, he moved well, looking ready to push forward his season after missing the first two months. Hill did have a couple of shots go his way, but was a big difference for Indiana's offense tonight.
Hibbert's seven blocks in the first half were a key in Indiana's ability to lead at the break, though he left early in the third quarter with a right bruised knee after banging knees with Jrue Holiday. Hibbert did return for the second half of the fourth quarter, scoring seven points as part of his 14 on the night. Hibbert was a key part of Indiana's ability to hold New Orleans to just 84 on the night.
Hibbert not only helped limit the effectiveness of Anthony Davis, who despite six late points, was held largely in check, scoring 21 points on 8-18 shooting with nine rebounds and one block, but also outplayed Omer Asik on both ends of the floor. Very few Pelicans players put together a good effort. New Orleans was 4-20 from the three point line, with their point guards Holiday and Austin Rivers combining for six turnovers.
David West continues to play at a higher level than he showed early in his return, scoring 13 points on 6-8 shooting, with seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals and blocks apiece. C.J. Miles struggled shooting after a seven point first quarter, ending up with 11, but had a pair of steals, one leading to a big dunk in transition. C.J. Watson also reached double figures with 10 points, including a big bucket late in the fourth quarter to quell the New Orleans comeback.
Solomon Hill scored 13 on the night on 6-11 shooting, playing big early in the second and third quarters to help push Indiana towards the win. Lavoy Allen did well in some extended minutes at the five against New Orleans front line, scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds as Indiana's bench outscored New Orleans's 40-17.
Despite entering a road heavy stretch over the next eight games, Indiana may have a chance to make up ground in the standings if tonight's effort has any carryover effect. Just as Indiana's eight game losing streak against quality opponents exposed them, the team faces just two winning teams between now and mid-January where Indiana is 6-4 against teams with losing records.
Indiana will get a couple of days off for Christmas (though the team will hold practice tomorrow according to Frank Vogel in a light hearted tone) before traveling north to face the Detroit Pistons on Friday, who currently sit at an abysmal 5-23 on the season, but will look to change their own fortunes after cutting ties with Josh Smith