On Tuesday night in Phoenix, the Pacers did what they've struggled to do in recent weeks: put together a strong defensive performance and close out a win on the road. Indiana (23-19) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 97-94 victory over the Suns (13-30) at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Pacers seized control early into Tuesday's contest with a 15-0 run that broke a 17-17 tie, scoring the final eight points of the first quarter and the first seven points of the second. The Blue & Gold never trailed the rest of the way and led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, but that doesn't mean there weren't a few nerve-racking moments for Pacers fans down the stretch.
Indiana had blown fourth quarter leads in each of its last three road games, and sure enough, the Suns clawed their way back within striking distance. Phoenix cut the Pacers' lead to just five points on Devin Booker's 3-pointer with 55.9 seconds remaining.
But this time, the Pacers did enough to hold off the opposition, as Monta Ellis knocked down a pull-up jumper 16 seconds later to thwart the rally. The Suns eventually got within three after Brandon Knight hit a circus shot with three seconds to play, but Ellis calmly knocked down both free throws on the other end to seal a much-needed victory for Indiana.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but we needed a win," rookie center Myles Turner told FOX Sports Indiana's Jeremiah Johnson after the victory.
"Before the game, (head) coach (Frank Vogel) put up on the board 'Just get a win.' You can draw up the X's and O's, you can do that, but at the end of the day, it's about how you play."
Fittingly, the Pacers won this game with their defense. Vogel had lampooned his team's defensive effort as "an embarassment" after they allowed 45 fourth quarter points in Sunday's 129-126 loss in Denver, but Indiana was much better defensively in Phoenix.
"A significantly different performance in a lot of different areas, so I'm happy with that," Vogel said after the win.
The Blue & Gold held the Suns to just 34.6 percent shooting on the evening, the lowest field goal percentage by a Pacers opponent in any game this season. The Pacers also forced Phoenix into 22 turnovers on the night, with five players collecting two or more steals.
Ellis led five Pacers players in double figures with 20 points in the victory. Paul George added 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Fellow starter Glenn Robinson III added 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting.
The Pacers once again got a big boost off the bench from their rookie duo of Myles Turner and Joe Young — both of whom were coming off the best performances of their career in Sunday's loss in Denver, where they combined for 40 points.
Turner scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting and blocked four shots. Young, playing virtually all of his minutes alongside his fellow 2015 draft pick, added 11 points, five assists, and two steals in just a little over 19 minutes.
The rookies' contributions were all the more important given who the Pacers did not have for the majority of Tuesday's contest.
For the second straight game, the Pacers were without the services of starting point guard George Hill, who is not with the team for personal reasons. Starting center Ian Mahinmi returned to the lineup after missing Sunday's contest with a sore left heel, but Mahinmi had to be helped to the locker room in the final minute of the first half after hurting his ankle in that same left foot. He did not return.
Booker was a bright spot for a Suns team that has now lost five straight and 14 of their past 15. The sharp-shooting rookie guard led all scorers with 32 points, going 9-for-16 from the field and 6-for-11 from 3-point range. Knight added 21 points and eight rebounds in the loss, though he also had eight of Phoenix's 22 turnovers.
The Pacers now have two days off to prepare for their next game, which figures to be the biggest test of their current four-game road trip. Indiana visits defending NBA champion Golden State on Friday night at 10:30 PM ET.
Inside the Numbers
Led by Turner and Young, the Pacers' bench outscored Phoenix's reserves, 44-24. C.J. Miles added nine points and five rebounds off the bench, while Jordan Hill chipped in seven points and seven boards.
Turner's four blocks were a new career high for the rookie, who had accumulated three blocks in two games earlier this season.
Miles set a season high with four steals.
The Pacers won despite going just 4-for-20 from 3-point range. The Suns, meanwhile, knocked down 11-of-35 3-point attempts.
You Can Quote Me On That
"That was our main focus today; we had to get back to playing defense. We use our defense to lead our offense and we set the tempo at the beginning of the game and we were able to get out and run and make some shots and get a comfortable lead so when they make their run we’re able to still hold them off and close them out." -Ellis
"I thought we did a better job. The fourth quarter is where we’re struggling. We slow the game down and we don’t play the way we’d build up our lead...This was all about us getting a win and getting back to playing winning basketball." -George
"We’ve still got to rebound the ball and we gave up 12 offensive rebounds in the second half but overall, it was a much improved performance. You hold a team to 34%, that’s a good effort. Like I said, too many second shots in the second half but a much better performance." -Vogel
"If we eliminate our turnovers, our half-court defense was much better. They had 97 points, but 27 of them came off turnovers. They got 24 fast break points, which I’m sure were from turnovers again." -Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek
"As the season’s going on I’m getting a lot of experience, obviously there’s a lot of games that we play. I’m getting a lot of time out there and getting that opportunity so I’m learning the game every day." -Booker
Stat of the Night
It's been quite simple to determine whether the Pacers win or lose over the past several weeks — just look at how many points their opponent scores. The Pacers have held their opponents under 100 points in each of their last 12 straight victories. On the flip side, Indiana has allowed its opponent to surpass the century mark in each of its last nine losses.
- With Tuesday's win, the Pacers swept the season series with the Suns (Indiana won 116-97 a week ago at Bankers Life Fieldhouse).
- Indiana improves to 36-47 all-time against the Suns and 13-28 in Phoenix.
- The Pacers are now 9-1 on the year when holding their opponent to a sub-.400 field goal percentage.
The Pacers will take on Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Friday, Jan. 22 at 10:30 PM ET.
The Pacers are on a four-game Western Conference road trip, but return home on Tuesday, January 26, to face Chris Paul and the Clippers for a Hickory Pacers night: Find Tickets »