When they're not lamenting a win got away, the Indiana Pacers are wiping their brows with relief when escaping with one. It doesn't seem to matter how well they play for stretches, the end result is going to be a close game in the closing seconds and tonight's win over the Houston Rockets followed the formula to a "T."
The Pacers actually looked very much in control through the first half and into the third quarter. Despite some pushes by Houston, the Pacers persevered to maintain a double digit lead, eventually taking a 67-51 lead in the early stages of the third quarter. From that point, however, Houston got hot, hitting four threes as part of a 19-3 run that found the game tied at 70-70 in just four minutes of game action.
Indiana began to scramble with Houston's defense forcing turnovers and shots continuing to fall for James Harden and company. The Rockets would take a 92-87 lead with 6:58 remaining in the game, appearing well in control of the game. Harden especially became a problem in the second half. George Hill did a good job containing Harden in the first half, but eventually the matchup proved too much for Hill when Frank Vogel opted to switch the matchup, placing Solomon Hill on Harden.
At that point, the game changed in Indiana's favor. Solo forced a jump ball on Harden, his hustle plays helping to push Indiana back into the lead. Solo scored just two points, but with five rebounds and three assists, but he gave Indiana the toughness they needed to get back in control of the game late. Two of Hill's assists late were to Ian Mahinmi, who had a career night with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Mahinmi had six offensive rebounds, a pair of those late creating extra possessions for Indiana. The first netted two points to put Indiana up 102-99 with just over two minutes remaining, and the second gave Indiana a valuable 24 seconds to milk that helped them secure the lead. Indiana needed their defense, however, thanks to splits at the free throw line late, but held to secure the key 104-101 victory.
Indiana was led by Paul George, who had a huge first quarter, scoring 16. George had four of Indiana's nine three pointers on the night, finishing with a 25 point, 11 rebound double double. Monta Ellis also had a solid all around night with 23 points, seven assists, five boards, and three steals, but continued his troubling trend of missing clutch free throws, setting up Houston for an overtime chance, though Ellis offered up some extra hustle to milk time off of inbounds as Houston attempted to look for a final shot.
The Pacers held a 34-28 bench advantage, one led by C.J. Miles, who reached double figures with 10 points hitting a pair of threes. Lavoy Allen had seven points and six rebounds, but it was the play of Ty Lawson that was especially encouraging. Lawson played less than 14 minutes, but came up with six points and five assists in his time. Lawson did a tremendous job finding guys for good looks and the fluidity he brings was missing early in the fourth when the Pacers really struggled getting looks.
All in all, the Pacers avoided another stinging loss to improve to 39-34. The win pushes them a half game over the idle Pistons and 2 1/2 games over 9th place Chicago Bulls, who the Pacers will be hosting on Tuesday. Chicago's lost three straight, but surely won't roll over to a Pacers rival who can effectively put them out of their sights with a win on Tuesday.