INDIANAPOLIS – The Pacers are making old-school basketball trendy, winning with defense, 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.
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 after 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 center 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.
The Pacers held the Raptors (16-17) to a season-low point total by limiting them to just 37 percent shooting from the field.