INDIANAPOLIS - There were so many things that the sellout crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse wanted to see when the entered to watch the most anticipated Pacers opening night in a decade.
There was the traditionally tenacious defense they came to expect in past seasons along with an improved offense that might give them the edge in a series against the Heat about seven months from now.
Also on the list of expectations was an improved bench, which is the place where the majority of the Pacers’ free agent money went in the offseason.
While there was no Danny Granger sighting on the floor (He’s out three weeks with a strained Calf) there was former Indiana star Victor Oladipo making his pro debut for the opposing Magic.
In the end the crowd got everything it would have wanted for this opening evening-it’s just they had to wait a little while before they could get it.
A solid defense was there all night, but the offense, bench and Oladipo arrived later in the second half as the Pacers used a big finish to beat the Magic 97-87 on Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It’s the start of a long season for the team in a competitive Eastern Conference and they’ll waste little time getting to Game 2 of the season as they travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans on Wednesday night.
At least the team will head there with momentum, having outscored the Magic by 14 in the final half. Their new look bench-held to just 12 points in three quarters-broke out for 14 points in the final 12 minutes of the game by to take what was a five-point lead at the end of 36 minutes and doubled it by the end.
At one point in the fourth quarter, the Pacers had a 19-point lead as they open the season at 1-0.
Paul George led the way for the Pacers with 24 points while Lance Stephenson score 19 and David West added 13. Oladipo played 23 minutes in his NBA debut and scored 12 points.
That helped to put a positive spin on a night that started much slower than many would have liked. In the first half the Pacers were strong on defense as they outrebounded Orlando 27-18 but failed to do much offensively. The Pacers took five less shots than the Magic and were plagued by 12 turnovers which allowed the visitors to lead by four at the half.
While not featuring Granger (Injury) or Chris Copeland (Coaching Decision), the bench was ineffective in the first 24 minutes. They scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting, while also adding just four rebounds. Even those Indiana University fans had little to see from Oladipo, who was in for just eight minutes and scored just three points.
After halftime things kicked up a little for the home crowd as the Pacers offense improved as the team shot 72 percent from the floor in the 12-minute stretch to regain a five-point lead. Even Oladipo broke through for his first major slam dunk of his NBA career-a staple of his game for three seasons in Bloomington.
The fourth quarter brought the best out in the Pacers, who opened the quarter with an 11-1 run that consisted entirely of bench scoring. Scola was most impressive for the Pacers, hitting 3-of-5 shots in the final quarter to help make it a happy opening night for Pacers’ fans–even if it took a while for them to get what they want.