The stage was set on Thursday night for something special to happen. Two rival teams meeting on national television, conjuring up memories of playoffs in the distant and not-so-distant past. Yet when the Pacers (31-7) hosted the Knicks (15-24) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it seemed that only one team showed up to play a full forty-eight minutes. The Pacers routed New York 117-89, improving the squad’s record to a league-best 31-7, putting up a season-high in points along the way.
“They played a really complete basketball game,” said Pacers Head Coach Frank Vogel. It was a great defensive effort. Obviously a point of emphasis was to keep the turnovers low. David West keeps saing in the locker room, singles and doubles, don’t swing for the fence, just simple plays. What you do without the basketball matters. And I think our guys see that.”
Thanks to an 18-point first from Carmel Anthony, the Knicks lead the ballgame 31-30 after the opening quarter. However Indiana held Anthony to just 10 more points (28 overall) throughout the rest of the game, putting a tight grip on New York’s offense that never found it’s flow throughout the remainder of the game.
“We just tried to use our hands and get some deflections,” said Roy Hibbert, who finished with 11 points and 6 rebounds on the night. “Just tried to man-up and limit them to one shot, even though we gave up some offensive rebounds. We just cut down on those and turned up the intensity, and the guards and forwards did a great job finishing on the other end. We were able to get a lead, and then in the third we were just hitting shots.”
Once Indiana was able to limit New York on defense, the flood gates opened up on the offensive end of the floor. Six Indiana Pacers ended up with double-digits on the night, and by halftime the Pacers held a comfortable 63-48 lead and never looked back. Both Paul George (25 points, 7 rebounds) and Lance Stephenson (career-high 28 points, 4 rebounds) lead the way for Indiana, with the ladder Stephenson getting high-praise from his teammates and coach after the game.
“I think he picks guys up,” said Vogel, who along with Paul George believes Stephenson should be an All-Star come February.
“There are a lot of ground it out nights in the NBA where maybe your legs aren’t there, or mentally you are drained from so many games in a row or whatnot. His competitive spirit is as high as anyone we’ve ever coached, and he never wants to lose. He’s not going to always play great, but he’s always going to bring energy and he’s always going to bring an edge. That’s a big part of what we are doing in here in terms of our success.”
For Stephenson, who helped Indiana win it’s ninth-straight home game with the Clippers on tap next on Saturday night, Thursday’s game was just another step towards what the team is working towards.
“We just wanted to get a W,” said Stephenson. “I’m excited every game. We have set a goal and we want to be the number one seed. Every night I try to bring something to the table. I just try to be an energy guy.”