INDIANAPOLIS — Closing out games is a challenge for the Indiana Pacers.
On Saturday at home against the Detroit Pistons, they nearly blew a 20-point third-quarter lead but got the plays they needed when it mattered most.
Paul George had 30 points and eight rebounds and the Pacers held on for the 112-104 win. Leading 104-100 with just more than a minute to play, Monta Ellis and George Hill hit the two shots Indiana needed to seal the win.
Hill’s fadeaway on the baseline about 10 feet in front of Detroit’s bench as the shot clock expired with 32.9 seconds put Indiana ahead by eight.
"I was just trying to make a play," Hill said. "I didn’t shoot the ball well in the second half. I had the look I thought could (go in). I was just trying to compete and make a play late."
Tight games are becoming the norm for the Pacers, who have played 20 decided by six points or less. Closing games out, specifically when leading late in the fourth quarter, has been Indiana’s Achilles heel.
Coming off a close loss Friday at Atlanta after leading with less than five minutes to play, the Pacers saw the Pistons surge in the third quarter with a 24-8 run after falling behind 73-53 just more than three minutes into the period.
Reggie Jackson and Anthony Tolliver caught fire for Detroit in the third. Jackson scored nine in the quarter and Tolliver added eight on his way to scoring a season-high 17. His 3 with 2.4 seconds left in the period had Detroit within 87-81 entering the final 12 minutes. Jackson led Detroit with 26 points.
Indiana held on to its lead late thanks to five missed free throws from Andre Drummond in the final 3:30. Those late misses allowed the Pacers to play without pressure and set the stage for the clinching baskets.
"We just made plays to win the game," George said. "I thought we did a nice job creating that cushion and withstanding that late rally."
Drummond, the league’s leading rebounder, was relatively kept in check by a low-post double-team plan by Indiana. In the first half, Drummond had just two points and five rebounds. He finished with 10 points and 13 boards for his 43rd double-double through 52 games.
"It was a collaborative effort. We really came in and sunk down on (Drummond), got him off the glass," said Pacers rookie forward Myles Turner. "Coach has been telling us we’re a smash-mouth basketball team. I feel like we set that tone early."
Detroit’s players were frustrated with not being able to put back-to-back wins together after defeating the Knicks on Thursday.
"We’re going to need to put together more than a one-game win streak," Jackson said. "It’s something for us to be worried about."
Myles Turner had 16 points and four rebounds for the Pacers. George Hill had 17 points and CJ Miles scored 10 points off the bench for Indiana.
The Pacers shot 75 per cent (15 of 20) in the first quarter. At one point they made 10 consecutive shots to grab a 34-22 first-quarter lead. They shot 68.4 per cent (26 of 38) in the first half.
Drummond’s collected his 91st double-double since the start of the 2014-15 season, the most in the NBA.
Pacers: It was Frank Vogel’s 400th career game as Pacers head coach, the most in the franchise’s NBA history. … Indiana is now 3-1 against Detroit this season. . It was the fourth game in six days for the Pacers, who are 2-2 since Feb. 1. . Ellis finished with eight points, leaving him short of scoring in double figures for just the second time in the last 24 games.
Pistons: Fell to 15-17 against teams above .500 this season. . Brandon Jennings needs five 3-pointers to reach 800 for his career in that category. . Detroit, the NBA’s third-best rebounding team with 47.1 per game, was outrebounded 42-38 on Saturday.
Pacers: Host Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.
Pistons: Host Toronto on Monday night.