An increasingly familiar, but positive sight for the Indiana Pacers at home came as Paul George hit big shots late to lift them to overtime and then to a 122-115 victory in the extra period. While discouraging in a sense that the Pacers needed overtime against the still winless Sixers, the also familiar sight of Indiana's atrocious defense continues to put them in positions that require George's late game heroics.
Philadelphia used a 14-0 second quarter run to put them in the lead and it was a struggle to contain the three point shooting over the Sixers (including five from Robert Covington and 14 made as a team) that made the gap tough to overcome. Indiana eventually broke through late in the third, building what seemed like a comfortable eight point lead, but Philly came back with an 18-4 run that pushed them back up by six with under two minutes remaining.
Jeff Teague caught fire, scoring seven straight to put the Pacers up a point with 30 seconds to go, just needing a single stop. Indiana gave 23 seconds of stellar defense with precision switching from the likes of George and Teague before Philly found a wide open Gerald Henderson for a go-ahead three. On the play, Monta Ellis lost Henderson under the basket, and Henderson's game (spent tormenting Glenn Robinson III in the first half) was in enough of a groove to sink the shot.
With under four seconds remaining, the Pacers got a good look from George that forced the overtime period.
Indiana went on to win the overtime period to improve to 2-0 in overtime games after a disastrous 1-7 run with last year's team. Closing games was a big issue for last year's team, but in the three competitive games Indiana has played late, that's not been the case at all, with George lifting Indiana on his back to bring them into the win column each time.
Teague and Myles Turner (15 points with a pair of late game blocks tonight) have helped in late game situations, but George has been lights out with the game on the line. In the final four minutes and overtime in Indiana's three competitive games late (against Dallas, the Lakers, and Philadelphia), George has scored 29 points on 11-15 shooting 3-4 from deep. George had nine of those points tonight late, totaling a 28 point, eight rebound night.
George had a big first quarter before foul trouble caught up with him, but he still managed to piece together a big game, almost quietly. Quiet seems to be George's motto on the season and he's rarely disappointed in the early going at makings things seem effortless even if the team may be looking for a louder showing to combat Indiana's road woes.
Elsewhere, Teague has found himself in good shape, scoring a season high 30 with nine assists. Teague was 10-16 shooting, coming up big late with seven points, including a big pull up three pointer that pulled Indiana to within one with a minute to go. After the early struggles, Teague has shown steady improvement on the offensive end, though the backcourt combo with Ellis continues to be an issue on defense.
Teague did look capable alongside George for the late fourth quarter possession defensively, however, which continues to raise questions regarding Ellis's best fit for the team. Ellis had a rough game tonight of nine points, three assists, and six steals, but has been a better fit with the second unit alongside Aaron Brooks. Despite the very limited sample size, the Ellis/Brooks second unit backcourt has fared better than the Ellis/Teague starting backcourt so far.
With Rodney Stuckey's timetable still up in the air, it would be a great opportunity for Nate McMillan to find a starting lineup that worked, but unfortunately, it becomes a roster issue for the Pacers. Robinson continues to struggle himself and was taken to school by Henderson tonight and with C.J. Miles lighting it up in the second unit, going 3-4 from three point range tonight, it would be dangerous to risk his play for that cause.
The Charlotte game didn't do Indiana much good at all, but Al Jefferson may have been the one to benefit the most. After leading Indiana with 12 points in the blowout loss on Monday, he followed it up with a confident 18 point, six rebound performance, going 9-12 from the floor. Jefferson's defensive play may be a problem among many other problems, but with solid looks on his shot, he can still make it a positive with his scoring abilities.
For the team however, the defense is still a long way off from being respectable. Indiana gets lost way too easily, allowing far too many open three pointers. Not only are Indiana last in the league in field goal defense, but they're allowing 30 three point attempts and over 10 makes a night. With 14 more tonight from Philadelphia, they're just allowing three pointers be an equalizer, with an avoidable three forcing an overtime period this season.
Indiana did well to come away with a closer-than-expected win against the 76ers, but they'll face their biggest test of the season on Friday when they complete the home-and-home series in Philadelphia. As tongue and cheek as that may sound, the Pacers enter 0-4 on the road this season, having trailed big in all four road games late.
The pride of not losing to a team on a staggering 44-game losing streak in October/November games should be more than enough, but Indiana should be focused on simply finding success on the road and Joel Embiid or not, it's their last chance to find some road confidence before the schedule starts becoming a bit stiffer in the second half of the month.