INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana fans gave Victor Oladipo a warm welcome to the NBA on Tuesday night.
Then the Pacers gave Oladipo and his Orlando teammates the cold shoulder.
Paul Georges buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the third quarter spurred a 21-4 run, finally sending Indiana past the Magic 97-87 in a tougher-than-expected opening night matchup.
Weve got to win the battles, win the tough games and weve got to win the games that we should win, George said. We have to take care of business early and not rely on the end of the season to start playing well and start getting a streak going. We have to start a streak early.
They got off to a good start Tuesday – even though it was a little ragged for a team that might have the best chance of unseating two-time defending NBA champion Miami.
Indiana committed 20 turnovers and gave up 13 offensive rebounds against the worst team in the league last season.
Roy Hibbert, who was two rebounds short of his career-high (17) in the first half, grabbed only one in the second half and left midway through the fourth quarter after an awkward tumble underneath his own basket that left him grasping at his knee. A few moments later, the 7-foot-2 former All-Star limped to the bench and coach Frank Vogel said Hibbert is expected to play tonight at New Orleans.
Despite the struggles, the Pacers still managed to get things done.
George finished with 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Lance Stephenson had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Hibbert scored just eight points but had 16 rebounds and seven blocks and the rebuilt bench played a huge role, scoring all but four points during the decisive run.
It left Vogel optimistic about the season.
Our bench, in the last three preseason games and tonight, really just blew the game open, he said. I think theyre going to be really strong, I think it was just a matter of nerves tonight.
The Pacers were aware they were facing split allegiances in Oladipos adopted home state.
More than 90 minutes before tipoff, one section near the court was almost completely full of fans decked out in Indiana University colors or fans wearing new Magic jerseys, far more than the 18 to 20 people Oladipo said he gave tickets to.
When the former Indiana star wasnt announced as a starter, the fans saved a rousing standing ovation for Oladipos grand entrance – midway through the first quarter. But by the third quarter most of those cheers were drowned out by a smattering of boos, a sign that Oladipo is no longer just the hometown kid.
The Magic were led by Andrew Nicholson, who scored all 18 of his points in the first half. Maurice Harkless added 14 and Jameer Nelson had 12 as the Magic shot 38.7 percent from the field.
But most of the near-sellout crowd wanted to see how quickly and smoothly Oladipo could make the transition from college star to NBA franchise player. He finished 4 of 11 from the field with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and three turnovers.
It was a great atmosphere. There were a lot of Hoosier fans in there, he said. I would have liked to have won, but overall it was pretty cool.
After cutting the Pacers lead to 65-64 with 6.1 seconds left in the third quarter, Orlando could not keep pace.