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February 3, 2014

Second-half surge lifts Pacers over Magic

INDIANAPOLIS — Pacers coach Frank Vogel kept the game plan simple.

Make the extra pass, take care of the ball, play defense and get more out of his bench.

The four-pronged approach worked. Danny Granger scored a season-high 16 points, Paul George and Lance Stephenson each had 15 and the Pacers plowed through some rough stretches to pull away from the Orlando Magic, 98-79 on Monday night.

“I thought we came out with the right focus and the right fight,” forward David West said. “We played hard, played together and got the ‘W.’“

That’s good enough for right now.

The team with the NBA’s best record came into the game with a 3-3 mark over its last six and seemed to be sliding after a series of slow starts forced it to fight its way back from large, early deficits. Even returning home after a five-game West Coast swing wasn’t the fix.

The Pacers (37-10) lost to Phoenix last Thursday, then had to overcome a season-high 24 turnovers Saturday to barely get past Brooklyn.

On Monday, the Pacers looked like a different team.

They started fast, committed only two turnovers in the first 21 minutes and led from start to finish. Perhaps that much should have been expected against the second-worst team in the league and the worst road team in the NBA.

But it was still a tough night.

West hurt his right ankle in the third quarter, backup center Ian Mahinmi left with an injured right shoulder in the fourth and Indiana let Orlando (13-37) back into the game late in the first half before nearly giving all of its 16-point, first-half lead by starting the third quarter with 10 straight misses.

The difference: The Pacers heeded their All-Star coach’s advice and allowed a season-low 29 points in the second half.

“That’s typical of us,” Granger said. “You know we hang our hat on defense, and we really want that to carry us the whole way.”

Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 20 points but was shut out for the final 23:47. Nikola Vucevic added 16 points, getting only four over the final 19 minutes. The only other Orlando player to reach double figures was Tobias Harris, who finished with 11.

Rookie Victor Oladipo finished with six points and tied a season high with 11 assists but was just 2 of 11 from the field in his second game back in his adopted home state.

“They were just more active on their tags and disguising their defense,” said Oladipo, who again started in place of injured point guard Jameer Nelson. “They just did a great job of making us take tough shots. It’s something we need to learn from.”

The Pacers, meanwhile, stuck to the Vogel Plan.

Granger, a former All-Star who has been working his way back from a strained left calf, broke out of his shooting slump. C.J. Watson had 12 points and Luis Scola added 10 as the Pacers bench combined for exactly half of Indiana’s total, a season best.

Indiana’s two most prolific scorers did their thing, too.

George started with seven points, three rebounds, two steals and two assists in the first quarter. Stephenson, the NBA leader with four triple-doubles, settled for 15 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

It looked as if the Pacers would blow out Orlando when they took a 55-39 lead midway through the second quarter. But the Magic closed the period on a 9-2 run, then watched the Pacers miss their first 10 shots in the third quarter as they crept back within two on Vucevic’s tip-in with 7:01 to go.

Indiana’s defense then held tight until Stephenson ended the shooting drought with a circus jumper that banked in as he drew a foul on Oladipo. Stephenson made the free throw to give Indiana a 63-58 lead and the Magic never got another chance to tie it.

The Pacers closed the third quarter on a 9-1 run to make it 75-63 and opened the fourth on a 11-1 spurt to put it away.

“It goes back to passing,” Granger said. “You know when once you move the ball, you get a lot more open shots. We’ve been trying to do it by ourselves these last 10 or 12 games and our offense has been struggling. So we move the ball, we get layups, backdoor cuts, open 3s. That makes everybody look good.”

 

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