In some sense, the Indiana Pacers having the ability to close out a game they had no business winning is either a sign of where they are as a team or a sign of who they're playing, and when the opposition is the league worst New York Knicks, it's hard to know which is which, but one thing's for certain, the Pacers got all they could handle of the Knicks tonight.
The Pacers led early in the second quarter 29-22, but went cold from the floor, allowing the Knicks to stage a comeback, wrapping up the half on a 21-9 run to take the halftime lead at 43-38. Indiana shot a woeful 28.6% in the first half, an unfathomably worse 20% in the paint, and clearly looked to be short on the hustle department as second night of a back-to-back fatigue caught them early.
Three fouls and two turnovers to start the third set the tone in a bad way for Indiana, who were fortunate to keep the Knicks in sight as George Hill barreled his way to the free throw line for four of his six. David West followed with three big jumpers to put Indiana on top at 52-51, giving Indiana some life as they moved ahead by four after Solomon Hill fought for a big second chance opportunity.
But finishing quarters proved a tall task for Indiana, who stumbled late to allow New York an 8-1 run to close the quarter. Indiana wrapped up with the 22-20 victory in the quarter, but watched a four point lead turn into a three point deficit in three minutes. The three point deficit swelled to nine as New York scored the quarter's first six points, putting the Pacers behind the eight ball.
After struggling to outplay the Knicks, plays from Luis Scola and C.J. Watson helped key off a 10-2 run that drew Indiana to within a point. The run was wrapped up by Damjan Rudez, who had just eight points on the night, but his 3-3 shooting, including a pair of threes, proved crucial for a Pacers team in desperate need of consistency. The Pacers broke through into the lead with a four point play from Watson.
Watson scored seven of his 13 in the fourth quarter, but despite putting Indiana up by three, the Knicks continued to fight, as the game sat tied at 83-83 with just under three minutes remaining. Off a New York turnover, George Hill drilled a three and after a bad post-up attempt, Rodney Stuckey worked to the line to give Indian a five point lead. A stop by the Pacers gave Stuckey the dagger with a runner off the glass to help Indiana to a 92-86 win.
The Pacers had to dig deep to come up with this one, but despite the opposition, it's more important that they came away with the win. The win is Indiana's fifth straight, setting them up for another four game home stand in the best possible way. Indiana had struggles; Ian Mahinmi, the hero of last night's win over Chicago, had zero points, six rebounds, and five fouls.
Roy Hibbert as well struggled, scoring all three of his points at the line, but did come up with 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks. David West was Indiana's surest shot tonight aside from Rudez's 3-3 performance, his eight points on jumpers in the third a sigh of relief for a team that missed every gimme they had. Even George Hill and Rodney Stuckey, who helped close the game, were a woeful 8-23 from the floor, though they had 15 and 17 respectively.
For as poorly as the team played, even poor nights from Solomon Hill and Luis Scola featured highlights with Solo fighting for his nine points and Scola scoring six in the fourth after blanking from the field in the first three quarters. Statistically, both teams played similarly, but what proved a difference maker for the Pacers was their ability to outscore New York 22-13 on points off turnovers, though neither team was particularly careless with the ball.
Indiana moved up to seventh place with a win tonight, holding the tiebreaker over the Miami Heat, who pulled out an overtime win against Sacramento, forcing the idle Hornets into ninth place, with all three times tied in the standings. The Pacers remain five games back of Milwaukee after the Bucks held off Washington late. The Pacers return home for another four game home stand that starts Tuesday against the Orlando Magic.