With the game at 44-22 halfway through the second quarter, the Indiana Pacers appeared well in control against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Brandon Knight had other ideas, running off nine as part of a Bucks 13-2 run to slice the lead in half. Paul George would sink in a big bucket at the end of the half, but a Roy Hibbert foul set up Zaza Pachulia at the free throw line to start another 13-2 run that cut the Indiana lead to 53-49 at the 9:41 mark of the third quarter.
Milwaukee's ability to piece together six to eight point runs in the second half really helped them stay alive in this game though they never were able to jump into the lead, thanks in large part to timely scoring from Indiana's big three of Paul George, David West, and Lance Stephenson. In fact, the three of them scored 55 of Indiana's 59 second points to carry the load offensively for the Pacers.
George led the way for the Pacers with 32 points, taking that honor on a late three pointer, but George was efficient all night, scoring nine first quarter points and getting to the free throw line nine times. He scored 13 points in the third quarter with three of his five three pointers coming in the quarter; each one coming at key junctures in the quarter.
The first halted a 6-0 Bucks run that had cut the lead to 60-58. The second a minute later pushed Indiana's lead to six and the third pushed a four point lead all the way up to seven as it was eventually pushed into double figures. George was 10-18 from the floor, 5-7 from three point range, and 7-9 from the line, with five rebounds and a steal and block to cap his top tier performance.
West had 10 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, simply keeping the Bucks from ever capitalizing on their ability with runs. He kept a seven point lead secure halfway through the fourth, assisting on a crucial three pointer to Stephenson that once again put Milwaukee down double figures with under five minutes to go. West was 11-16 and 8-10 from the line with seven rebounds and five assists, playing the reliable calming force that's made Indiana such a difficult team to come back on in the fourth quarter.
Stephenson had 24 on the night, including 15 points in the fourth quarter, as part of his nine rebound and eight assist triple-double campaign. Stephenson opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run of his own, turning a seven point third quarter lead into a 14-point one. But as was the trend of the game, as Indiana's three weapons tonight pushed the game into double figures, the Bucks were right there to put the game back within striking distance.
Brandon Knight was the go to all night for Milwaukee, scoring a team high 30. He was the team's only reliable option in the first half, but Chris Middleton and O.J. Mayo began to open up in the second half, giving them a chance with 10 second half points from Ersan Ilyasova and six from Giannis Antetokounmpo to keep Indiana's top heavy trio on their toes.
Indiana did get valuable minutes off the bench from Ian Mahinmi and Rasual Butler. Mahinmi was a key part of Indiana's success throughout the night, scoring five off the bench with four offensive rebounds and two blocks. The success of Mahinmi helped spell Roy Hibbert, who after hitting his first shot, was plagued by his Zaza Pachulia kryptonite, missing his next eight en route to a four point, six rebound night. George Hill meanwhile was a ghost much of the game, going scoreless on three shots with one assist.
Butler filled in the minute gap left by the departure of Danny Granger before the expected debut of Evan Turner next week. He was solid in the second quarter, scoring seven of his eight points in the period. But the concerns of "too much Rasual Butler" were on full display in the second half as he went scoreless on three second half attempts. Butler has been nothing short of a surprise in his role for the Pacers, but with Granger's struggles leading up to the trade deadline, his second half performance is a big reason why Larry Bird felt it necessary to make a move, because while Butler fills in his role exceptionally well, he's in that role for a reason.
The Bucks found plenty of success tonight in their runs, hitting nine three pointers and plastering Indiana on both the boards (52-40 with 15 offensive rebounds) and in fast break points (winning 18-1) but were held to just 34 points in the paint thanks to six Indiana blocks on the night. While the Pacers would've surely liked to begin the post-Danny Granger era with a more convincing win against the league's worst team, they were able to come away with a win, which is what matters in the end, given Milwaukee's runs and Indiana's top heavy contribution.
Indiana will have two more days off before tipping off against the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Tuesday, a likely debut point for both Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Meanwhile, the win moves Indiana to 42-13, pushing their lead in the Eastern Conference back to two games over Miami as they once again keep their loss to one game as opposed to two.