INDIANAPOLIS (CP) — The Pacers are making old-school basketball trendy, winning with defence, balanced scoring and strong second halves.
On Tuesday, they did it again.
Roy Hibbert scored 22 points and Lance Stephenson fell just short of his fourth triple double this season, helping the Pacers hold off Toronto’s late charge for an 86-79 victory that allowed them to keep the NBA’s best record.
“We didn’t let them get physical with us,” Stephenson said, referring to the stark contrast to Indiana’s loss last week north of the border. “That was a point of emphasis.”
The Pacers (28-6) have won three straight since that loss at Toronto and have a two-game lead over two-time defending champion Miami in the Eastern Conference.
This was no typical night in Indiana.
Some Pacers fans stayed home because of the poor road conditions in and around the city, and both teams started sluggishly _ perhaps a result of their own weather-related travel delays.
Because of the snowstorm that swept through the Midwest on Sunday and the frigid temperatures that delivered a second big blow to Indianapolis on Monday and Tuesday, the Raptors (16-17) were forced to stay in Miami two days longer than planned and didn’t arrive in town until about five hours before tip-off.
Things didn’t go much smoother for the Pacers, who endured a seemingly endless round of delays as they tried to return home following Sunday night’s game at Cleveland. So when All-Star Paul George picked up his second foul less than five minutes into the game, the Pacers knew they would have to revert to their traditional style.
“Our guys buckled down and had a great defensive performance,” coach Frank Vogel said.
Hibbert led the charge. He helped the Pacers dominate the middle with a 53-36 rebounding edge and a 40-26 scoring advantage in the paint. The 7-foot-2 centre was 5 of 12 from the field and 12 of 13 from the free throw line with eight rebounds and three blocks.
Stephenson, the league leader with three triple doubles, did his thing, too. He finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Danny Granger, the former All-Star who is working his way back into game shape, came off the bench to match his season high with 13 points, and George Hill and Paul George each added 11 for Indiana.
And defensively, the Pacers were stifling.
They held the Raptors (16-17) to a season-low point total by limiting them to just 37.0 per cent shooting from the field _ their third-worst performance of the season. Coach Dwane Casey didn’t blame the poor shooting effort on the abrupt change of plans but rather his team’s inability to effectively counterpunch against the Pacers inside.
“Shooters’ legs, sea legs, whatever you want to call it, it was there,” Casey said. “We can have all the excuses, but again, in a game like this, you’ve got to man up and bring it.”
DeMar DeRozan led Toronto with 28 points, while Patrick Patterson added 20 and Kyle Lowry had 16. Nobody else reached double figures for the Raptors, who have played their best basketball of the season over the last month though they’ve lost back-to-back road games — at Miami and Indiana — following a four-game winning streak.
Toronto fought hard most of the night, jumping to an 11-4 lead and cutting an eight-point second quarter deficit to 32-31 with a 7-0 spurt.
But the Pacers seized control by closing out the first half on a 12-5 run that made it 44-36, then used an 8-0 third-quarter run to break it open. Indiana led 71-54 in the final minute of the quarter before Toronto made one last rally.
The Raptors closed to 77-70 on Lowry’s layup with 4:14 to go, made it 81-75 when Patterson hit a 3 with 2:51 to play and got it to six two more times. Twice, they had chances to get even closer, but they missed 3s both times in the final minute and the Pacers held on.
“We remembered these guys from a couple of games ago. We let that one get away,” said David West, who finished with 12 rebounds and four points. “Tonight we made a point of protecting our home court.”
NOTES: Indiana improved to 17-1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. … Toronto hosts Detroit on Wednesday after completing a three-game road trip. … The Pacers have a 2-1 lead in the season series and won’t face Toronto again until April 4. … Raptors forward Tyler Hansbrough, an ex-Pacer, did not play because of a sprained left ankle.