The pendulum of the Indiana Pacers' season continues to swing wildly, from perplexing home losses to white knuckled wins over lottery bound teams, perhaps it was a quality team and a national TV game that Indiana needed all along to get them in something of a playoff mindset. At home tonight, the Pacers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers with the purpose of a team trying to avoid them in the playoffs.
Of course, the Pacers did catch a break when it was announced LeBron James would sit out the game with rest. The Cavaliers were 1-3 on the season without James, and Paul George did joke after the game that James's absence allowed him energy for the offensive end on a splendid night for George. Though even without James, the Cavaliers' offense had little trouble scoring early.
Kevin Love was on fire early, scoring 14 of Cleveland's first 18 points in a quarter the Cavs shot 68%. That forced the Pacers offense to carry a heavy load, which it responded to in a big way, winning the quarter 36-33, capped off by a surprisingly good omen: a Solomon Hill three pointer to beat the buzzer. Solo entered the game when it was clear Lavoy Allen was going to be fodder at the four for Love to feast and excelled on both ends of the floor.
Hill was the nightmare matchup the Pacers were hoping for against Love, with him making Love a non-factor offensively. Love scored five late in the second, finishing with 23 for the game. On the other end of the ball, however, Solo was a unconscious. He hit a pair of threes early in the second as Indiana pushed their lead to double figures.
Solo had a season high 15 points on the night, shooting 6-9 from the floor, including five rebounds and three steals. His best effort of the night came in the third quarter, when he blocked Love on a fast break, then streaked back to get the layup on the other end of the floor.
The Pacers had 70 points at the break, shooting 63% in the first half. Despite seeming unsustainable, Indiana still managed to shoot lights out in the second half when Paul George was able to take charge of the game. George finished the night with a game high 29 points, including 15 in the second half on four three pointers. Indiana built their lead as high as 19, but any push from the Cavs was put to rest by the shooting of George.
In the end, the Pacers cruised to a 123-109 victory, shooting 56.2% on the night. It was a night of second-bests for Indiana, who had their second best scoring output and shooting night of the season while making their second most three pointers on the season with a staggering 16. Of those 16, C.J. Miles accounted for six on 6-8 shooting, scoring 21 points off the Pacers bench.
Indiana gained an advantage in tonight's game with their bench, scoring 50 points. The rotations worked in Indiana's favor as well. Lavoy Allen was pulled early for Solomon Hill, who made an immediate impact. Early foul trouble for Ian Mahinmi (who finished with a solid 15 points and eight rebounds) gave way to Myles Turner, who immediately got two fouls of his own.
That would bring Allen back in the game at the five with Jordan Hill playing his backup in the early going. Allen would have a much better game at the center position, scoring seven, while Hill was useful in a first half that featured little defense as he scored six. While Love had 23, after the start of the game, the Pacers only had to really contend with Kyrie Irving, who was a flash, scoring 26 points on 11-18 shooting.
But without James, there was little involvement from the rest of the Cavaliers. J.R. Smith began the game 4-4, but had just seven shots on the night as the Cavs had just 15 assists on 35 makes. Indiana on the other hand had 25 on their 45, led by Monta Ellis, who had eight to go along with his 13 points while George Hill had five of his own, scoring nine.
With the win, the Pacers drop their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 2, which can be achieved by two Pacers wins, two losses by the Chicago Bulls, or a win for Indiana and a loss for Chicago. Leading by three games with four to play will give Indiana a 97.1% chance to clinch a playoff spot according to ESPN's BPI Playoff Odds, but even if that's a certainty, Indiana's playoff opponent isn't.
The Detroit Pistons secured a comeback victory over the Orlando Magic on the road to move them to 42-37, just a half game out of 7th place. Both teams take the court on Friday with Indiana heading north to face the Toronto Raptors while the Pistons host the Washington Wizards.