postgame: Pacers 99, Pelicans 82 (1/4/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer

New Orleans center Alexis Ajinca throws down a dunk on Indiana center Roy Hibbert

By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer

INDIANAPOLIS – Although it came in much less dramatic fashion – with stakes that certainly were not as high – the Indiana Pacers capped a day of comebacks for their city Saturday, rallying from a double-digit first-half deficit to overtake the New Orleans Pelicans. Less than a mile away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts began the day of Hoosier State turnarounds with a historic home playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs, after falling behind by four touchdowns.

By the time many Pacers fans settled into their seats Saturday, the Pelicans had already built a 14-point advantage. As many in the sellout crowd of 18,165 kept one eye on video screens showing the football action at nearby Lucas Oil Stadium, however, their NBA team demonstrated why it owns the league’s best record. Undaunted by a sluggish start, the Pacers (26-6) dominated the second half 55-33, including outscoring the Pelicans 30-12 in the third quarter. Indiana eventually went up by 20-plus points en route to a comfortable winning margin.

“We just didn’t play well,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said of the team’s second half. “I can come up with a lot of things that sound good on camera.  We just didn’t play that well.  Basically they took it to us on the defensive end. We competed tonight. We just got out of sync on the offensive end and that led to them getting a number of offensive opportunities.”

Seeking what would’ve been their best road victory of 2013-14, the Pelicans (15-17) led 27-15 through a quarter and were up 49-44 at halftime. The Pacers almost immediately seized the upper hand in the pivotal third quarter, using a 13-0 run to expand their lead to 70-57 with 2:00 minutes remaining in the period. New Orleans shot an outstanding 53 percent from the field in the opening half, but was just 4-for-16 in the third quarter.

“I think the Pacers really closed up the paint,” Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday said of Indiana’s defensive improvement as the game progressed. “In the first half, they were playing OK defense, but we were really penetrating and making nice plays in the paint. Once they closed that down, we started having to take jumpshots. They just stepped up their defense.”

An avid Indianapolis Colts fan himself and a native of the city, Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon received a loud ovation when his name was introduced in the starting lineups Saturday. Gordon led New Orleans with 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting, scoring 17 in the first half. Alexis Ajinca provided another Pelicans bright spot by registering 17 points, a new career high, highlighted by a resounding dunk over Indiana shot-blocking force Roy Hibbert.

Despite those contributions, the Pelicans lost for just the third time this season against an Eastern Conference opponent, with two of the losses coming against Indiana. The Pacers also came from behind to defeat the Pelicans on Opening Night back on Oct. 30, after New Orleans controlled the first half. The Pelicans had won eight straight vs. the East, a streak that began after a Nov. 1 loss at Orlando.

“I think (the Pacers) picked up their energy a little bit,” Williams said this time. “I could complain about things that don’t matter, missed calls and the like, but they picked up their mentality. It was a lesson for our guys. They just picked up and we did not.”