Following the All-Star break, the Indiana Pacers returned to action one day after the Philadelphia 76ers traded away two rotation players, including their leading scorer in Michael Carter-Williams, dispatching of the Sixers 106-95, though the game flow told a more lopsided story. Often it's not who you play, but when you play them, and that appeared to certainly hold true tonight.
The last time Indiana faced the 76ers, they fell at the end, during a six week stretch Philly 8-12 heading towards the All-Star break. Whether that was too much winning or he was looking to continue to horde assets, Sam Hinkie made his trade deadline moves to send away Carter-Williams and K.J. Daniels, leaving the 76ers looking much more in line with the team that started 0-17 than the team that found some success.
To be fair, however, both teams looked like 0-17 teams early, with airballs and bricks making up a bulk of the action from both starting units as they looked to shake off All-Star break rust. C.J. Miles scored eight straight for the Pacers to put them ahead in the first quarter, scoring 12 in the quarter as Indiana closed on a 9-3 run to give them a 23-16 lead after one.
In the second quarter, Indiana pushed their lead into double figures, led by Rodney Stuckey, who scored 13 of his 16 first half points in the quarter, helping Indiana to a 58-40 halftime lead. Indiana scored 35 in the second quarter, taking advantage of bad passes by Philly to score 11 off turnovers. Indiana pushed their lead to 20 in the third quarter, with the teams swapping a few 6-0 runs, drawing Philly to within 14.
Rodney Stuckey broke the flow, scoring nine straight to push Indiana ahead by 24, getting Indiana into the fourth quarter as they opened up a 97-72 advantage early in the fourth quarter. The Sixers would push the lead down to 11 by the end of the game, but still resulted in the 106-95 Pacers victory. The win pushed Indiana to 6-2 in their last eight games, easily their best eight game run of the season.
The win came at a cost regarding Stuckey, who suffered an ankle injury on a three point shot with just under four minutes left and Indiana leading by 19. Stuckey had a season best 30 points on the night, shooting 10-16 from the floor and 8-8 from the line. He had four assists and three steals to lead the Pacers by relentlessly attacking JaKarr Sampson in the second half.
While Stuckey probably shouldn't have been in the game, with him playing off the bench and the game entering the final four minutes, it wound up more an unfortunate timing than anything. Stuckey was positive about the injury after the game though he was unable to put any weight on the ankle leaving the floor. He told Candace Buckner that he would just need ice and treatment and expected to be on the floor for Sunday.
The bench proved the difference for the Pacers tonight. Them entering really pushed the game in Indiana's favor. The Pacers shot 48.2% on the night, but it was the trio of Stuckey, Luis Scola, and Damjan Rudez that shot 64.5%, including 5-8 from three point range, scoring 56 of Indiana's 106 on the night. Scola scored 16, grabbing seven boards and coming up with three steals, while Rudez scored 10 points.
C.J. Miles was the only starter who made an offensive impact, scoring 17 points on 6-12 shooting. David West and Roy Hibbert each had eight points and seven rebounds, with George Hill scoring seven on 2-8 shooting and Solomon Hill putting in a three. The rusty play of the starters helped play in the favor of Philly's starters, led by a near triple-double by Nerlens Noel, who had 12 points, nine boards, and nine blocks, outplaying Hibbert on the defensive end for much of the night.
Indiana gained a half a game in the standings on idle Charlotte while Detroit and Miami each won. While Stuckey is optimistic he'll be able to play, there's no immediate guarantee at the moment as the Pacers enter a very difficult three game stretch beginning at home against the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, followed by games against Oklahoma City and Cleveland.