It wasn't pretty, but in the NBA, it doesn't always have to be.
In what is shaping up to be an extremely close race for playoff seeding in an impressive Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers (21-15) made sure they played their best basketball down the stretch in a 91-86 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans (11-24) on Friday night.
With 5:18 left in the game, the Pacers found themselves down 82-80 after both teams traded baskets in between bouts of sloppy play to start the final quarter. But a scrappy back door cut to the rim found Glenn Robinison III drawing a foul, and even though he made just one of two at the line, it proved to be the catalyst to 7-0 Indiana run that gave Indiana a 87-82 lead with 2:17 left to play, which happened to be the Pacers' largest lead of the night. The late run included a triple by George Hill and a tough fade-away jumper by Monta Ellis.
Jrew Holiday broke up the run on a pair of free throws, but C.J. Miles came right back for the Pacers, hitting a tough hook shot to put the Pacers up 89-84 after Ian Mahinmi kept Indy's possession alive with a clutch offensive rebound moments prior.
The Pelicans would respond with a basket to make it a one-score contest, but were unable to tie the game up. Their best chance came with under 15 seconds to play, as Eric Gordon spotted up from the corner off a swing pass by Ryan Anderson. Gordon hesitated while rising up, allowing Ellis to race over and partially block Gordon's game-tying attempt.
Paul George's would grab the ensuing rebound and drain two free throws with 5.8 seconds left, clinching the victory for Indiana.
Mahinmi led Indiana with 17 points and 10 rebounds on the night, and he was joined in double figures by Miles with 15 and George with 13. Tyreke Evans of New Orleans led all scorers with 27 points, and Anderson pitched in 21 for the Pelicans as well.
Anthony Davis left the game and did not return for the Pelicans due to a lower back contusion suffered while diving for a loose ball in the game's opening moments.
The Pacers trailed 43-38 at the break after what was a first half full of runs by each side. The teams traded buckets in the early minutes, but after Davis left the game with a lower back contusion, the Pelicans still managed to go on a 22-6 run to take a 30-16 lead by the end of the first quarter. However, Indiana responded by outscoring New Orleans 22-13 in the second quarter.
The Pacers came out of the break on a 7-1 spurt, and Paul George gave Indiana its first lead since the opening quarter on a three pointer with 10:08 left in the third, 45-44. New Orleans responded with 7-0 run of their own, but the Pacers quickly erased that as a pair of Lavoy Allen free throws tied the game at 51. The teams would go on to trade baskets for the final 6 minutes of third quarter, with no team holding more than a 4 point advantage. Rodney Stuckey would put in a buzzer beating layup, which made it 70-68 New Orleans at the end of the quarter.