After Damjan Rudez turned the ball over with 8:03 remaining in the fourth quarter with the Indiana Pacers trailing 88-79, things began to look dire. The turnover was Indiana's second straight, their 13th and 14th on the night. Indiana was 1-8 in the quarter, and had avoided all attempts at defense in allowing a 33-point quarter to the Orlando Magic. The Magic overcame a 51-49 halftime deficit to go up by nine after the Rudez turnover early in the fourth, possessing all of the momentum.
But on Indiana's next possession, Rudez found redemption with a three pointer, keying a 14-2 run that put Indiana ahead 93-90. In the run, the Pacers hit all five of their shots, four of them were threes, and three of those came from Rudez himself. Rudez had a hand in the entire run offensively, scoring 11 on his own, including a surprising left hand dunk and assisting on a C.J. Watson three pointer.
The Pacers swung the momentum back in their favor with the run, and though they were never able to shack the Magic, they never relinquished the lead back to Orlando. With the game tied at 97-97 with two minutes remaining, George Hill made a pair of big plays, first a layup, then a big hustle steal that wound up a thunderous dunk that put Indiana ahead 101-97 in a stretch of 21 seconds.
Orlando was never able to recover, especially as Roy Hibbert and the Pacers locked in defensively in the final possessions, setting up another Rudez three to sink the dagger in the Magic, leading Indiana to a 106-99 victory against the Magic, snapping a seven game losing streak and a six game road skid.
On the night, both teams shot over 50% for much of the night, but a late surge by the Pacers put them at 51.8% for the night while the Magic slipped to 48.7%. The shift in the score was not only helped along by the increase in three point shooting from Rudez, but once they went up 88-79, the Magic made just three baskets in the final eight minutes, scoring 11 points down the stretch.
Damjan Rudez put in a career high 18 points on the night with four threes, all in the fourth quarter. Rudez had 16 points in the fourth, nearly outscoring Orlando on his own as the Pacers won the final quarter 31-17. The play of Rudez late was a big boost for a Pacers team that appeared to be floundering towards a winless road trip.
But not only the late play of Rudez, it was the late play of George Hill that proved to be a key difference in how Indiana came away with a win tonight. In his second night back, Hill played 20 minutes, scoring 17 points, including the four late points to push Indiana ahead by four with 1:45 remaining in the game. Hill's play since his return shows Indiana something they've been sorely missing: someone to play well for a change.
With Hill being injured most of the season, it's been hard to take note of his play, but tonight he looked like the best player on the floor, attacking the rim at will, carving up Orlando's defense with ease, and giving some winning hustle. Where Indiana goes from tonight is hard to say, though a heavy dose of home games won't hurt, and if Hill plays at this kind of level throughout the remainder of the season, it's not going to be hard to see the Pacers getting better.
That's a long ways off though given the Pacers just got away from losing seven straight, but the play of Hill looks as if it could be sustainable, health willing. As long as the Pacers can get a C.J. Miles-type performance like Rudez put up tonight, Indiana could find themselves in games. David West scoring 20 points didn't hurt, nor did Roy Hibbert playing his best game in a while, putting up an 11 point, 13 rebound double double.
Indiana got plenty of contributions on the night. Rodney Stuckey scored 15 with six assists and C.J. Watson also reached double figures with 11 points and eight assists. Ian Mahinmi's near double double of eight points and 10 rebounds helped overcome off nights from Luis Scola and Solomon Hill, though Solo had an exceptionally poor game with bad passes and bad shots as part of his two point night.
After closing out their five game road trip, the Pacers will return home for a five game homestead as part of a stretch of 20 games where Indiana plays 15 home games. Forget ease of schedule; Indiana will be tested right away facing the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, but for at least one night, a faint glimmer of hope is renewed in how Indiana bucked recent trends and won a game late.