The Indiana Pacers just completed what was perhaps the most uninspiring 4-game winning streak in franchise history after barely holding on to down the 76ers, 99-90. The game was as close as 3 points with just under 3 minutes to go before the Pacers buckled down and hit a few big shots to seal the game, including an emphatic Paul George and-one slam to send Philly to a franchise record 21 consecutive losses.
Paul George struggled with his shot but was effective at getting to the line (great to see), setting career highs in makes and attempts with 15 and 16. He finished with 24 points and 8 rebounds.
Lance Stephenson led the way with 25 points but was a ball stopper at times, and he also had 5 turnovers and just one assist. David West struggled with his shot en route to 7 points, but he did have 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block. Roy Hibbert had 8 and 5, but he did have a big three-point play to help the Pacers pull away down the stretch. George Hill had 11, including a dagger three to double the Pacers' lead from 3 to 6 with just under 2 minutes to go.
The Pacers bench played well tonight, with Ian Mahinmi going off for 10 points, 5 rebounds and a block in 19 minutes of play in his first game back from bruised ribs. Donald Sloan, back from personal reasons, had 5 points, as did Luis Scola, while Evan Turner was held to 4 but did have 7 rebounds.
Unfortunately, Andrew Bynum did not play due to swelling in his knees and had to take an MRI. As Frank Vogel said, they knew that they had signed up for, but it's still a little disappointing to see that Bynum might miss more time after a couple of very encouraging games. I'm hoping the knees were just an excuse and it was really because they didn't want anyone from Philly to kill him on the court.
So after their 4-game losing streak, the Pacers held on to beat the Celtics, held on to beat the 76ers, came back from 25-down to beat Detroit in OT, and against held on to beat the 76ers. These four non-playoff teams, by the way, have a combined record of 62-138 (a winning percentage of 0.31). You wanna know the last team the Pacers beat that had a winning record? Portland, on Feb 7, 118-113 in OT at home. To find the last team with a winning record they beat on the road, you'd have to go back to Jan. 20 against Golden State. At that stage, the Pacers were 33-7, which means they have gone 17-10 since.
Still, at least it helps them extend their lead over the Heat to 3.5 games with 15 games remaining. Their next game, against the streaking New York Knicks, winners of 6-straight, at Madison Square Garden, will be a huge test. The Knicks are 4 games out of the 8th spot in the East but if they keep surging they could end up with the 8th or even the 7th seed and face the Pacers in the first round. I'm sure the Knicks, having just signed Phil Jackson as president, would love to send a message, so the Pacers better be ready.