Pacers Sweep Western Conference Weekend
Two tough Western Conference teams entered Bankers Life Fieldhouse over the weekend, and Al Jefferson and the Indiana Pacers sent both home with losses.
The Pacers won the second night of their back-to-back on Friday night, beating the Sacramento Kings in overtime 115-111. After a day of rest, they returned to their home floor and notched a 120-101 blowout of the Houston Rockets, who boast the third-best record in the NBA.
No. 7 had solid outputs in both contests, turning in nine points against the Kings and eight against the Rockets. He turned the ball over just twice in two games and finished 8-of-16 from the floor for the weekend.
Al checked into a close game on Friday night with 3:07 left in the first quarter and got on the board quickly, taking a give from Monta Ellis under the basket for a layup. Al picked up another basket a minute later by using a pump fake that sent Willie Cauley-Stein soaring past him and created an open lane to the hoop.
Indiana kept the game close, but the Kings, who average nine 3-pointers per game, hit seven in the first to take a 30-27 lead.
Al stayed in to start the second and was right back to work, spinning up and under Kosta Koufas for a layup. The Pacers opened the second on a 9-2 run but the Kings stayed hot from the field and took a double-digit lead midway through the quarter. Indiana was still down 12 in the final seconds of the half but Paul George sank a three at the buzzer to get the deficit to single digits at the break.
The Kings came out of the locker room aggressive and went up a game-high 16 points midway through the third, but Indiana responded with an 11-2 run to storm back int0 the game and cut the lead to five. The teams combined for 29 free throw attempts in the third quarter, making for a choppy third stanza, but the Pacers sliced the Sacramento lead down to a manageable six, 87-81, entering the final frame.
Sacramento pushed its lead back to 10 to open the fourth, but Al backed down Koufas and spun around him for a layup that sent the lead back to single digits. The Kings led by 11 with 6:13 to go in regulation, when the Pacers reeled off eight straight to cut the lead to 98-95 with 4:05 to go.
George sank two free throws to tie the game with 1:17 to play. The Pacers had a chance to win in regulation on the final play of the game, but George’s shot glanced off the iron, and the teams headed to overtime. In all, Indiana closed the game on a 17-6 run.
The teams traded baskets to open the extra period but George hit his most clutch shot of the night, a step back jumper with 35 seconds remaining that proved to be the difference.
Al was his typically effective self, scoring nine points on 4-of-9 shooting with a rebound and an assist in 12 minutes.
“I give my guys credit for always staying in the game, staying in the fight,” said George of the comeback. “Regardless of how the game is going, we always seem to close games out well.”
PACERS OUTRUN ROCKETS
Looking fresh off a day of rest, the Pacers came out firing against Houston. After going scoreless over the first two minutes of the game, Indiana used a 9-2 run to grab a 14-point lead. Indy played terrific defense on James Harden, while also shooting a lights-out 66 percent from the floor to take an early 33-20 lead.
Al started the second quarter on Sunday afternoon and got his feet wet on the scoring end a minute into the quarter. After initially catching the ball from Monta Ellis outside the paint, Al held the ball to let the offense spread out and threw back to Ellis at the 3-point line. Ellis then drove the lane and kicked to Al who made the short lay-in.
No. 7 stayed busy, hitting a jumper on the Pacers’ next possession and using a double team to his advantage later in the quarter by passing to an open Lavoy Allen at the free throw line.
Indiana lead 42-24 at one point in the second, but a 17-5 Houston run cut the lead to eight near the end of the first half. The Pacers closed well, though, using a 10-2 spurt—capped by a halftime buzzer-beater off the hand of George for the third straight game—to take a 14-point lead into the break.
The Pacers continued to be the aggressors in the third, pushing their lead to 17 on a three and electrifying dunk over Clint Capela by George. With Pacers head coach Nate McMillan opting to play his starters most of the third, the bench was needed to come in to start the fourth and protect a 90-70 lead after three quarters.
Al had a number of crucial plays in the first half of the fourth. With 8:22 to play, Al slipped away from a double team and took an over-the-shoulder pass from Allen for a layup. Perhaps Al’s most impressive play of the night came on defense, though. With 7:13 to play, Al provided a terrific closeout on Harden in the corner and trapped him there. Harden tried to throw the ball off of Al and out of bounds, but The Big Fella caught it, which lead to a George jumper on the other end. That gave Indiana a 20-point lead with 6:56 to play, and the Pacers were able to cruise to their third straight win.
Al’s final stat line was clean, reading eight points on 4-of-5 shooting in 10 minutes.
The key to beating Houston always lies with Harden, and he was kept in check all 48 minutes, only scoring 15 points on 3-of-17 shooting.
“I don’t think they believe me, but when you’re aggressive defensively, it puts you in a better rhythm offensively,” McMillan told reporters after the game. “This is the third game in a row this has happened. I thought we established our defense early.”
The Pacers head out on a two-game road trip, starting with the Orland Magic on Wednesday. Indiana leads the season series against former coach Frank Vogel 2-0. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. ET.