After a rough bout of news this morning involving Chris Copeland, the Indiana Pacers played with a heavier heart in a game that night against the New York Knicks, with Solomon Hill and Paul George each sporting headbands in solidarity for Copeland. Though the Pacers didn't look shaken by this morning's news on the court, playing the Knicks had its advantages for Indiana, who had little in the way of struggles in a key game for their playoff chances.
The Pacers never trailed against New York, using three first quarter three point plays to build a 17-8 advantage in the first quarter when Paul George returned for his second game of action. In his first stint, George scored six points, but almost more importantly, saw him find more and more confidence towards playing on his leg when physical play became a part in the game.
George took two falls, one fighting for a loose ball, the other when Luis Scola was pushed back into George's leg as he was shooting, George hitting the three and popping up. While watching George take those hits is difficult to see, these are the exact things he and the Pacers need to see with his return to play as far as heading into the offseason and next season.
The Pacers led by 12 at the end of one, pushing the lead to 16 at the break. They expanded the lead to 24 early in the third quarter, effectively putting the game out of reach at that point for the Knicks. New York made a final push in the fourth quarter, but couldn't draw any closer than 16 before the Pacers swelled the lead back to 20, helping Indiana to a 102-86 victory.
In George's second half stint, he scored four more points, all from the line, to bring his total to 10 points on 2-7 shooting. He came up with a pair of steals as well, and took on some more physical play that helped him get to the line six times on the night, making his last five.
As George made up for his lack of shooting in other areas, the Pacers found their most success inside, attacking New York's interior defense relentlessly, outscoring the Knicks 50-22 in points in the paint and outrebounding New York by 20 in the process, holding them to just 34.5% shooting on the night. After finding plenty of success from three point range in recent games, the Pacers were just 4-22 tonight.
Indiana had six double figures, led by George Hill, who scored 20 on 7-11 shooting. Hill played a solid all around game with six rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Roy Hibbert notched a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, five of them coming on the offensive glass, leading to six second chance points.
Luis Scola and David West played great as well, going a combined 9-10 from the floor, each scoring 11. Scola neared a double double with nine rebounds. Unfortunately for Indiana's front court, Lavoy Allen lagged behind the two, struggling defensively on a night New York struggled offensively. C.J. Miles reached double figures with 13, but shot just 5-14. Donald Sloan provided solid minutes off the bench with five points and six assists.
Around the league, the Boston Celtics had no trouble dispatching of the Detroit Pistons. While Indiana moved up to 9th place with the win, they didn't gain any ground on Boston, still sitting a game out. However, Boston themselves moved up to the 7th seed with their win, coupled with Brooklyn's second loss to Atlanta, drops them to 8th, still putting Indiana a game out.
While head-to-head tiebreakers put Indiana in a dire situation with those two teams, Miami also sitting one game out favors Indiana as any tiebreaker involving the Heat in addition to Boston or Brooklyn would flip in favor of the Pacers. There's still a lot to be decided as far as the final two playoff spots in the East are concerned, and with Paul George back in the fold and Indiana defending again (with help from George), the Pacers may be trending back the right direction to fight to the final game for that playoff berth.