The Indiana Pacers had to outlast another tough effort from the Milwaukee Bucks in their 101-96 victory, once again playing worse than their record and once again seeing the Bucks play better than theirs. There were a number of parallels between tonight and their 110-100 victory last week in Milwaukee. The Pacers had a superb first quarter, closing out strong up 30-15, going up 17 before the Bucks made their way back into the game.
O.J. Mayo lifted Milwaukee offensively in the second quarter, hitting a trio of three pointers as part of a 19-5 Bucks run that trimmed Indiana's lead to 37-34. The Pacers managed to capitalized on Milwaukee's inability to hit a field goal over the next four and a half minutes, pushing their lead back up to 12 at 50-38 with just under two minutes to go in the half. But the Bucks responded and closed out the second quarter on a 12-0 run thanks to Khris Middleton and Brandon Knight that tied the game at 50-50 at the break.
Coming out the half, Milwaukee hit a three with Knight and Middleton pushing Milwaukee well into the lead at 60-54. For the Pacers, their defensive effort was a mess, all while the Bucks defense made a mess of Indiana's offense. Out of the following timeout, Paul George and Lance Stephenson hit back-to-back threes to tie the game at 60, but fell couldn't push into the lead, falling behind 66-62 with 5:06 in the third quarter.
From there, Indiana's defense began to find some consistency, as they held Milwaukee scoreless through the final five minutes of the third quarter, highlighted by a great defensive possession by Evan Turner to block Mayo and force a jump ball. Indiana ran off an 11-0 run to close the quarter to move up 73-66. The Bucks continued to push in the fourth quarter, trimming Indiana's lead to two multiple times, including at the 4:22 mark, with Indiana leading 83-81.
David West split a pair of free throws that led to a reverse three point play to put Indiana up five, and despite a Knight basket, George Hill would respond to keep the game at five. Knight hit another three pointer and on the ensuing possession, Hill would get caught in a well covered inside-out game with West, leading to Hill turning the ball over falling out of bounds.
Hill landed hard on his shoulder and would writhe in pain. He exited the game, but remained on the bench, slowly working his shoulder the remainder of the night. Frank Vogel would say after the game that Hill was initially diagnosed with a bruised left shoulder, putting him at day-to-day with the injury. Hill would finish with nine points on 3-4 shooting, but struggled with four turnovers despite hitting some key shots on the night.
Roy Hibbert had four points late to push Indiana's lead up to nine to help essentially wrap up the night, but still needed to lean on a Lance Stephenson three pointer and Turner free throws to stave off three straight three pointers from Milwaukee that continued to provide hope for the Bucks, but they ran out of time, the Pacers closing out the 101-96 win.
Indiana got a huge outing from Hibbert, who led the Pacers with 24 points on 10-16 shooting with 12 rebounds and two blocks. Despite Indiana's defensive struggles throughout the night, most of them came from the perimeter. Hibbert helped limit the Bucks to just 32 points in the paint. Ian Mahinmi had another furious outing on the defensive end on his own, coming away with a pair of pickpocket steals and two blocks.
Paul George hit some key shots throughout the night as part of his 18 point, 7-15 effort. George also had eight rebounds and six assists. Evan Turner followed up his solid Pacers debut with a struggling shooting effort, scoring eight points on 2-10 shooting. Turner's defense was a mess in the first half when allowing Mayo to kill the Pacers on the offensive end, but had a much better effort the second half to help Indiana pull out the defensive stops necessary to close out the third. C.J. Watson led the bench with nine points, getting to the line four times.
Indiana struggled with turnovers, with four more coming from Lance Stephenson. The Pacers had 19 on the night, which led to 25 Milwaukee points, one of the key factors in the Bucks being able to hold in the game, as well to do with their 12 three pointers on the night on an efficient 24 attempts. Stephenson had 18 points as well on the night on 7-11 shooting, including a pair of threes, his last helping to put a cap on Milwaukee's furious attempt at a comeback.
The Pacers gained their own advantages from the free throw line, doubling up Milwaukee in attempts, hitting 19 of their 22 attempts. It was everything Indiana could do to wrap up the win against the Bucks, as they win their third straight, moving to 44-13 on the year and 28-3 at home with just 10 home dates left. Regardless of their overall struggles, especially in two of their three outings against the active Bucks, they're still managing to pull out wins.
With Miami set to keep pace with a win of their own tonight against New York, winning by any means necessary is what ultimately matters for the Pacers, who still have six weeks to round themselves into playoff form as they have just 25 games remaining on the year. They'll begin with one of four back-to-backs in March on Saturday, tipping off on the road against the Boston Celtics.