The Indiana Pacers opened the 2014-15 season with a very different look, but a similar result. The Pacers (1-0) won their home opener for the fifth straight season, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers (0-1), 103-91.
The Pacers opened the season without starters David West (sprained ankle) and George Hill (bruised knee), as well as backup point guard C.J. Watson (bruised foot), who all sustained injuries during the preseason. All-Star forward Paul George (leg injury) was already expected to miss much (if not all) of the season.
But Indiana had enough talent to take care of business on Wednesday. Center Roy Hibbert, the only healthy returning starter from last year, did the heavy lifting. Hibbert finished the night with a game-high 22 points, eight rebounds, and seven blocks, going 6-for-8 from the field and 9-for-12 from the free throw line.
"He played a physical brand of basketball and he really worked for position before he got the ball," head coach Frank Vogel said of Hibbert's performance. "Most of the fouls that he picked up were before he even got the ball, just posting with physicality and trying to live in the paint."
But the Pacers were buoyed by the performance of offseason acquisition Rodney Stuckey off the bench. Stuckey provided an immediate spark and finished with 16 points and five assists in just over 16 minutes of action.
Seemingly everything went right for Stuckey on the night. Not known as a 3-point shooter, Stuckey even buried both of his attempts from long range.
"What Rodney Stuckey can do is put the ball in the basket," Pacers forward C.J. Miles said after the win. "Once you get three layups and get to the free throw line four times, you get in a rhythm and guys start backing up off you. You've got to keep them honest...The basket was as big as the arena (for him) by the time he took that shot."
Opening Night nerves seemed to get the best of Indiana in the early going, as the Pacers committed eight turnovers and allowed Philly to rack up 20 points in the paint in the first quarter. That combination added up to an early 10-point deficit, but the Pacers quickly responded.
Indiana scored the last 12 points of the quarter, taking the lead on C.J. Miles' breakaway dunk plus a foul just before the buzzer. The Blue-and-Gold had another 12-6 run to open a 38-30 lead in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
Stuckey was a major catalyst during the Pacers' surge. Coming off the bench in limited minutes as he recovers from a foot injury suffered during the preseason, Stuckey came out with an attacking mindset and showed off his elite speed. He had 10 points and four assists in a 6:26 shift and the Pacers were +14 during that span.
"I (was) just trying to get everyone settled down, get everyone in their positions," Stuckey said of his mentality when he checked in. "...I felt like when I got in the game, we kind of did that and got the lead back."
Philadelphia slowly clawed back to retake the lead after Stuckey returned to the bench. Third-year guard Tony Wroten got to the lane early and often for the Sixers. Wroten, starting at the point in place of injured 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, had 13 points and five assists at the break to propel Philly to a three-point halftime lead.
The Pacers took the lead for good midway through the third quarter on a driving layup by point guard Donald Sloan with 5:44 left in the period. Sloan and C.J. Miles both hit 3-pointers during an 8-0 run a few minutes later that pushed Indiana's lead to 10.
Stuckey and Chris Copeland hit 3-pointers during another 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter that pushed the margin to 13, but the Sixers didn't fold. Philly used an 11-1 run of their own to climb within three points with 4:18 to play.
The Sixers' comeback dreams were subsequently squelched, however, following a 3-pointer from Miles and an old-fashioned three-point play on consecutive possessions that pushed the lead back to double digits. The Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd could rest easy over the final two minutes with the victory in hand.
Indiana's next game comes on Halloween night, when the Pacers host the Memphis Grizzlies at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Inside the Numbers
Hibbert swatted seven shots on Opening Night for the second consecutive year. He also had seven blocks against Orlando last year. Those blocks are tied for the third-most in NBA Opening Night history (New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis set the record last night with nine blocks in a win over the Magic).
Donald Sloan recorded his first career double-double. Sloan finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, both career highs.
Chris Copeland had 11 points off the bench for Indiana. Luis Scola finished the night with 10 points and six rebounds.
Tony Wroten led Philadelphia with 22 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Alexey Shved added 18 points off the bench.
Nerlens Noel had six points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks for the Sixers. Noel, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, was making his regular-season debut after sitting out all of last year recovering from ACL surgery.
The Sixers missed their last 10 shots in the game and 13 of their last 14. The Pacers held Philadelphia to 24 percent shooting in the fourth quarter (6-for-25) and 28.3 percent in the second half (13-for-46).
You Can Quote Me On That
"I think we started slow, which is to be expected with the new faces. I thought it might happen. The bench came in and stabilized things. Then the starters had a great second half. It wasn’t perfect. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a positive first step." -Frank Vogel
"It’s not necessarily taking all the shots, it’s just playing with force, trying to get offensive rebounds, trying to keep loose balls alive and playing defense to the best of your ability. Then everybody else will fall in line." -Roy Hibbert on embracing a bigger role due to the Pacers' injuries
"It’s a positive that we were sharing the ball and getting stuff out of our play. The biggest thing is to keep pushing and trying to execute. Guys will get in a rhythm and get familiar with each other." -C.J. Miles
"I thought two times the game was going south and to the guys’ credit, they clawed back and made it respectable. It’s going to be the nature of this group and hindsight, but I’m proud of their efforts." -76ers head coach Brett Brown
"I thought for all four quarters we played hard. A couple of mistakes towards the end probably cost us. But like Coach said, Indiana is a playoff team that regularly goes deep into the Eastern Conference playoffs and I thought we came out here and played them tough." -Tony Wroten
Stat of the Game
The Pacers have won five straight home openers and seven of eight overall.
- The Pacers honored long-time head coach and broadcaster Bob "Slick" Leonard at halftime in recognition of his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Leonard's broadcast partner Mark Boyle unveiled a new banner in the rafters with the words "Hall of Fame" added below Slick's name and win total and Pacers President Larry Bird presented Slick and wife Nancy with the keys to a new Cadillac Escalade. Photos »
- There was minor kerfuffle late in the second quarter when Malcolm Thomas fouled Hibbert hard in the post. After a lengthy review, the referees gave Thomas a flagrant foul and Hibbert a technical for reacting to the shove.
- Paul George addressed the crowd before the game, thanking them for their support and asking for them to cheer on his teammates this season.
The Pacers host the Memphis Grizzlies on Halloween night (Friday) at 7:00 p.m. ET. Game Preview »