So the Pacers got off to a poor start again and was behind by the half for the 5th time in 6 games. Didn't matter. The team clamped down on Rudy Gay and the Raptors in the second half and cruised to a 91-84 victory. Observations:
– George Hill returned after a 3-game absence to put up a solid 14 points in just 19 minutes with just 1 turnover. Frank Vogel said he was good to go but they didn't need to put him back int he fourth quarter. Hill admitted that his hip isn't where it needs to be, which remains a concern.
– Speaking of concerns, Lance Stephenson banged his knee and experienced some sorness, which limited his minutes in the first half. He returned and finished with 4 points and 4 rebounds, but his impact on the court was much higher than the numbers suggest.
– Roy Hibbert had by far his best scoring game in the young season with 20 points (9-14 shooting), 7 rebounds and "just" 2 blocks. It was just Roy's second double-digit scoring game so far, and it's good to see his shots falling — but it's really just a bonus as long as his defense remains at a DPOY level.
– Paul George got dominated by Rudy Gay in the first half but got the better of him in the second. Gay had 22 points in the first half on 9-13 shooting while George only had 5 points on 2-10 shooting. But then PG showed why Gay was just a good playing who was playing great, and that he's a superstar who was having a bad game — by scorching him for 17 points in the third quarter as the Pacers turned a 2-point deficit into a 13-point lead heading in the final quarter. PG finished with 23 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals on 7-21 shooting, while Gay had 30 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks on 12-26 shooting.
– Gay had gotten the better of George last season by hitting a game winner over him in a game that the Pacers appeared to have won comfortably before an epic collapse allowed a miraculous comeback in OT. The Raptors were within striking distance in the couple of minutes but the Pacers showed why they're a different team this year by holding them off with composed plays down the stretch.
– Tyler Hansbrough really is a guy who people love when he's on your team and people hate when he's not. It's a shame, but Psycho-T was booed tonight in Indiana, which he totally did not deserve because he always gave 110% every time he stepped onto the floor. But he showed why the Pacers are much better with Luis Scola instead of him, putting up a very Hansbrough-esque 4 points and 5 rebounds on 1-4 shooting in 19 minutes. But he had 1 assist! Scola, on the other hand, had 8 points on 4-6 shooting, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks, also in 19 minutes, but it was the positive impact he had on the floor that was more telling than any of the numbers.
– If you thought Scola was an upgrade on Hansbrough, then you need to consider CJ Watson vs DJ Augustin. Watson's numbers are rarely flashy (he had 6 points and 2 assists in 29 minutes), but anyone who watches him play can tell you he is a solid presence and a night-and-day difference compared to Augustin, a nice guy, but someone who can barely even crash the rotation in lowly Toronto. DJ played just 6 minutes and had 0 points, 0 assists, a foul and 2 missed shots. So very DJ.
– The Pacers remain the only undefeated team in the NBA with a 6-0 record, the first time for the franchise since 1970-71 (when they were still in the ABA). But getting to 7-0 will be extremely difficult as they take on a Nets team tomorrow night in Brooklyn for their 4th game in 5 nights. Apart from the 3 games in 3 nights from the lockout season, this is about as strenuous as it gets for the NBA, so this is what people would consider a potential "schedule loss". The fortunate thing for the Pacers is that the Nets are coming off an overtime loss to the Wizards tonight, and they aren't exactly a young squad with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the lineup.
– That said, Brooklyn is a tough matchup for the Pacers. If Hibbert is the best big man defender in the league then Brook Lopez is the offensive big in the league. Roy will have his hands full, and he'll need to stay out of foul trouble for the Pacers to have a chance. George Hill is still not 100%, but luckily Deron Williams, still one of the best PGs in the league, isn't either. Kevin Garnett's length will pose a lot of problems for David West, and Joe Johnson's experience will make it tough for Lance Stephenson, especially if the latter is still experiencing knee soreness from today. Paul George will have a chance to show us how he stacks up against the aging Paul Pierce, who only had 4 points in 27 minutes tonight. But what I fear is that Pierce rarely has 2 off nights in a row and George will be experiencing fatigue with this being his 4th game in 5 nights.
– All that being said, the Pacers have surprised me so far this season. Maybe they can do it again to make it 7-0.