THE FACTS: The Indiana Pacers are making a compelling case for becoming the NBA's best defensive team. Two days after limiting the defending champion Heat to a season-low 77 points in a 10-point victory, the Pacers held the next-best team in the Eastern Conference to a season-low 76 points in a five-point win over the New York Knicks Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Paul George took care of business at both ends, as usual, leading the Pacers with 24 points, adding 11 rebounds, a career-high six steals and five assists. Ian Mahinmi came off the bench to replace an ailing Roy Hibbert down the stretch and scored 11 of his 13 points in a 21-4 fourth-quarter run that blew open the game. Indiana (22-14) won its ninth straight at home, the team's longest streak since 2002-03. The Knicks played without suspended star Carmelo Anthony and his absence was felt mightily. J.R. Smith scored a game-high 25 points but shot 10 of 29 from the field. Tyson Chandler had 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Knicks (23-12), who have lost seven of 12.
QUOTABLE: "Special performance after special performance after special performance. He's leading our defense, which is becoming a best, and guys are embracing that identity."
-- Indiana coach Frank Vogel on George.
THE STAT: New York entered the game first in the NBA in 3-pointers made (11.4 per game) and third in percentage (.390) but hit just 4 of 20 from the arc.
TURNING POINT: The Knicks wiped out an 11-point deficit to take a 62-58 lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to a 24-9 run, with Smith scoring 12 of the points. But George and Mahinmi took matters into their own hands. George scored six points -- twice converting steals into layups -- as Indiana scored 13 unanswered points to take the lead for good. Mahinmi scored nine of the team's next 10 points to polish off the 21-4 run with a three-point play that made it 79-66 with 2:15 remaining.
QUOTABLE II: "If anything, I hope my assists will go up."
-- George when asked what adjustments he'll have to make when Danny Granger returns.
HOT: George struggled in the first half, scoring just seven points on 2-of -9 shooting, but heated up in the second. He scored 17 points on 8-of -15 shooting after intermission. Mahinmi hit 6-of -7 shots in 20 highly productive minutes.
NOT: After putting the Knicks ahead 60-58 with a jumper late in the third quarter, Smith missed his next seven shots and was scoreless more than nine minutes into the fourth quarter. Indiana's David West continued his recent shooting slump, going 3-of-11, and backup Tyler Hansbrough shot 1-of-8.
QUOTABLE III: "They're good, really good. And playing shorthanded made it tough. We had a tough time adjusting our rotation tonight. Playing shorthanded was a factor. Guys are not used to playing with each other. We fought hard but you've got to give the Pacers credit. They played really well defensively against Miami and us. They are for real."
GOOD MOVE: With Hibbert struggling with back spasms early in the second quarter, Vogel brought little-used reserve Jeff Pendergraph off the bench to spell Mahinmi and protect against foul trouble. Pendergraph provided a nice spark with six points in the period. When Hibbert left the game for good in the fourth quarter, Mahinmi was able to step in and be a difference-maker.
BAD MOVE: Smith apparently took Anthony's absence as a license to take every shot in his repertoire, a large chunk of which were thoroughly ill-advised.
NOTABLE: Hibbert left early in the fourth quarter after blocking a Chandler dunk attempt and wound up playing less than 20 minutes. ... Indiana point guard George Hill played 34 minutes despite a case of bronchitis. ... New York's Marcus Camby left in the third quarter with a sore left foot. ... Indiana has won three in a row and nine of 11. ... This was George's eighth double-double of the season, six in the last 12 games. ... Four of George's career-high six steals were converted into layups or dunks. ... Indiana has held three consecutive opponents to fewer than 80 points. ... The Knicks did not score a fast-break point. ... Chris Copeland started his third game of the season with Anthony serving his one-game suspension for confronting Kevin Garnett after the Knicks' loss to Boston Wednesday night. Copeland scored just eight points. ... Amar'e Stoudemire has yet to play in back-to-back games but that could change with the Knicks heading to Chicago Friday. He scored nine points in 21 and 1/2 minutes ... Knicks guard Iman Shumpert is working out and is making steady progress in his comeback from a torn left ACL. Woodson said Shumpert would practice next week but that he still did not have a target date for his return. ...
The game marked a rare return to Indianapolis by TNT analyst and Pacers Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and he was surrounded by plenty of familiar faces. Former teammates Rik Smits and Derrick McKey were spectators. Another, Haywoode Workman, was on the officiating crew and yet another, LaSalle Thompson, was an assistant coach with the Knicks. All were teammates on the 1993-94 Pacers team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time, losing to the Knicks in seven games.
UP NEXT: For the Pacers, Saturday vs. Charlotte, Sunday @ Brooklyn, Tuesday @ Charlotte. For the Knicks, Friday vs. Chicago, Sunday vs. New Orleans, Thursday @ Detroit.