Pacers (17-2) win first in Utah since 2005
December 4, 2013 (AP) – A game after he scored a career-high 43 points, nothing seemed to be going right for Paul George.
Fighting a cold, his chest was burning and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. To make matters worse, his reliable shooting stroke was faltering.
“It was so hard to find my wind but I didn’t want to make any excuses. I tried to play through it and find a way to will us to a win tonight,” said George, who scored 19 points as the Indiana Pacers returned to their defensive ways in beating the Utah Jazz 95-86 on Wednesday.
George and Pacers primarily did it with defense as they usually do.
“We struggled but we stuck with what we do best,” said George, who had a key steal and dunk moments after the Jazz got within two points midway through the final period. “We made those guys take tough shots and, over time, those shots start to get a little short or a little long. Our defense played a huge part in us getting this win.”
Lance Stephenson scored 15 points, Luis Scola had 14 and Roy Hibbert added 13 points to win in Utah for the first time since an 84-60 victory on Nov. 29, 2005.
The Pacers were coming off their first back-to-back games of the season in which they allowed their opponent to reach 100 points — L.A. Clippers and Portland. But Indiana outscored the Jazz 27-19 in the fourth quarter and parlayed 14 Utah turnovers in 20 points.
“They pushed us off our spots,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. “They put pressure on us a little bit and threw off our rhythm.”
Gordon Hayward’s 3-pointer cut the Indiana lead to 79-76 before the Pacers scored nine straight points, capped by West’s 20-foot jumper that just beat the shot clock, and never looked back.
“We made the better plays down the stretch. We got what we wanted, getting open shots because we executed in the fourth quarter,” West said.
Derrick Favors led Utah with 22 points and 13 rebounds and Enes Kanter had 20 points and 10 boards for the Jazz, who had won three of their last four games.
Hayward and George, who have worked out together in the summers and were picked ninth and 10th in the 2010 draft, both struggled with their shooting against each other’s tenacious defense.
“It’s always fun playing against Gordon because he’s one of the few guys in this league that never lets up. I know I always have my hands full when I face him,” George said.
When George finally made a 3-pointer — his first in eight attempts — with 53 seconds left, he paused and pointed skyward in relief at seeing one drop.
“I pointed up to the basketball gods and thanked them. It was just a relief. I wasn’t able to shoot the ball well and I was just fatigued out there,” said George, who finished 7 of 20 from the field after an acrobatic layup with 21 seconds remaining.
Hayward made only 3 of 14 shots and finished with 12 points.
“They are good defensively. They challenged a lot of shots at the rim and forced us to shoot over the top and we just couldn’t knock them down,” Hayward said.
Behind 10 points each from Kanter and Favors, the Jazz built an 11-point lead in the first half that evaporated to 48-47 by halftime. Led by Stephenson, the Pacers used an 18-4 run bridging the second and third quarters to move in front.
The Pacers are the top defensive team in the league — holding opponents to 39.5 percent shooting and 87.6 points per game — but they allowed the Clippers to score 100 points in a win and the Blazers 106 points in a loss on the current five-game road trip.
“It was a really good win for our guys, kind of a grind-it-out type of game,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.
Power forwards Marvin Williams (foot) and Jeremy Evans (flu) sat out the game for the Jazz but Utah attacked the Pacers for three quarters and led 69-68 after Kanter’s layup to open the fourth quarter.
But the deeper into the fourth period they went, the more difficult it was for the Jazz to score. The Pacers disrupted the Jazz offensive sets and when Utah found open looks they misfired down the stretch.
“The altitude and my asthma kicked me in the rear to begin with. But I got my second wind and I was trying to be a defensive presence,” said Hibbert, who blocked two shots and altered several others.
The Pacers’ tough trip concludes with a back-to-back set against San Antonio on Saturday and Oklahoma City a day later.
*Photo courtesy of Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images