The Bucks may have needed it more but the Pacers played like they wanted it more.
With their players repeatedly hitting the floor, diving out of bounds and in some cases simply outhustling the Bucks to loose balls, the Pacers won a contentious 118-109 game over a slumping Milwaukee team that let its frustrations boil over in the fourth quarter as forward Larry Sanders was ejected as he made multple attempts to engage Pacers players.
The Pacers (41-22) not only clinched homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they won their seventh game in a row, their longest winning streak since the 2003-04 season, and improved to 11-1 in April. Their magic number for wrapping up the third seed is one.
The Bucks dropped their third in a row and fifth in six games to fall to 29-33, three games behind Philadelphia (32-30) in the battle for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
BY THE NUMBERS
Danny Granger scored 29, including four 3-pointers to bring his three-game total to 15, to lead the Pacers. George Hill scored 22 with eight assists and five rebounds. David West had 21 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and shot 9-of-14. Paul George scored 14 with five assists and three steals, Roy Hibbert 12 points and Leandro Barbosa 10. the Pacers shot 47 percent and had 24 assists against just nine turnovers.
Brandon Jennings led Milwaukee with 27. Mike Dunleavy scored 23 off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Drew Gooden 15 and Monta Ellis 12. The Bucks shot 42 percent.
“Very excited to lock up home court advantage in the first round. We’re excited with where we’re at. Our guys are playing with a big picture in mind." - Pacers Coach Frank Vogel
"David West is a bad man, and I’m not talking about the altercation. He is playing at an extremely high level and driving this team to be great. I can’t wait to see how far he leads us in the playoffs." - Vogel
“This is a competitive sports game. We know this and we know we have to be competitive each and every night. We have to be ready for whatever they throw at us. We need to keep it up, continue to play hard, continue to get better and keep the heat on whoever we play, whenever we play. This is just the beginning.” - Hill
“We came out focused and ready to play tonight. Coach told us to put our foot on their necks and not let them up. We are playing great basketball now, working together, recognizing each other and just having fun out there. It is just the beginning. We can’t let up under any circumstances. No highs or lows.” - George
"They’re (the Pacers) a good club. They’re 19 games above right now, so you can’t fall behind like that. You have to stay with them. Our overall approach early in the game wasn’t good enough for a game like this against a team of that caliber. It’s not that we didn’t play hard, it’s that you need an extraordinary effort against a team like this, not an ordinary one. It’s a great club. They’ll be a tough out in the playoffs." - Bucks Coach Scott Skiles
STAT OF THE GAME
All five Indiana starters scored in double figures for the 11th time this season. The Pacers are 10-1 in those games.
After closing the first half on an 8-0 run, the Pacers started the second 10-2 to open a 66-52 lead. The only negative in the burst was foul trouble. Hibbert went to the bench early in the third period with four fouls, while George remained in the game after picking up his fourth.
The lead grew to 15 late in the period after a remarkable hustle sequence.
Lou Amundson blocked Gooden's jumper, and Barbosa dived out of bounds to save it cross-court to Hill. The point guard then returned the favor, feeding Barbosa for a 3-pointer and a foul for a rare four-point play that made it 86-71, and the lead was 89-78 heading into the fourth.
That's when things got bumpy, as Barbosa picked up a flagrant foul, Dunleavy and Hansbrough had to be separated after a brief entanglement, and Bucks forward Larry Sanders picked up two technical fouls in a span of 20 seconds, earning an ejection and possible suspension for attempting to instigate incidents with several Pacers players.
Through it all, the Bucks got no closer than five.
The Pacers started well, struggled when the reserves came in, and then regrouped behind the starters to score the final eight points of the half to take a 56-50 lead into the locker room. The Pacers made 14 of their first 19 shots in jumping to a 32-21 lead, but then missed 12 in a row in a span of more than seven minutes as Milwaukee put together a 19-2 run to take a 40-34 edge early in the second quarter. Indiana's reserves struggled in the first half, combining to shoot 3-of-15 and score six points, but the starters compensated as Hill (14), Granger (14 and West (10) combined for 38 of the team's 56 points.
Things got ugly with 3:29 remaining when Sanders picked up two technical fouls in a span of 20 seconds and was ejected, eventually escorrted off the floor only after several attempts to engage Pacers players. Granger and West earned technical fouls during the scrum. ... Hansbrough and former teammate Dunleavy tangled for the second time this season with 9:03 remaining. Dunleavy was hip-checked out of bounds on a drive by Barbosa. He fell hard on top of Hansbrough, who took exception to Dunleavy's knees in his throat, but the players were quickly separated. Originally given a type 2 flagrant foul, which would've resulted in an ejection, Barbosa's penalty was reduced to a type 1 after the officials reviewed the play. ... Including a team season-best 11-11 from the line tonight, Granger has made his last 39 free throws in a row. ... George became the seventh player in the league this season to amass 100 steals. ... The Pacers had a streak of nine straight sub-100-point games by opponents snapped, but scored at least 100 for the seenth straight game and 12th in 13. ... Hill started his seventh game in a row at the point, as Darren Collison remained sidelined by a sore groin. Coach Frank Vogel Vogel said Hill has played well enough to earn the starting job but that no decision has been made in that regard. ... Milwaukee was without forward Ersan Ilyasova, who sustained a bruised right thigh late in the Bucks' 121-110 loss to Washington Wednesday. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute started in his place.
Another rematch game comes Saturday against Philadelphia in Bankers Life Fieldhouse (7 p.m., Fox Sports Indiana, WIBC 93 FM). The Pacers just beat the Sixers 102-97 Tuesday night in Wells Fargo Center as Danny Granger scored 24 points and the team hit 13-of-24 from the 3-point line.