INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George couldn’t have picked a better time to take over a basketball game and lead the Pacers to a much-needed win.
During the second half of the second night of a back-to-back, George played like someone on three days’ rest.
George made six 3-pointers and scored 27 of his season high 39 points in the second half, and the Pacers knocked off the Hornets 98-77, keeping Indiana in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Charlotte and Indiana went into halftime knotted at 42. Less than 24 hours earlier, the Pacers blew a lead on the road and lost to the Knicks. Now, it appeared Indiana was on the verge of losing a second consecutive game and sliding to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
“There are times we lose focus out there,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “I thought they responded tonight. They were all business from start to finish. We know we gave one away (last night) and they responded by playing hard, coming off (the first night of a) back-to-back and I think we were locked in every possession on what we needed to do.”
Indiana led 50-47 in the third quarter when it looked as if both teams would trade the lead until the final minutes. But the moment George decided to put the game in his hands, so, too, did the rest of the Pacers decide to put the game away for good. Indiana used a 15-0 run to extend the lead and ultimately shut the door on the Hornets.
Charlotte outscored Indiana in the paint 42-18, but the Hornets shot just 40 percent (32 of 80) while the Pacers finished shooting 53 percent (39 of 73). 26 of Indiana’s 39 field goals came by way of an assist on Wednesday night. Frank Kaminsky finished with 20 points and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 10 points.
George was just too much for the Hornets to handle. The four-time All-Star made 15 of his 21 field goal attempts in addition to his six 3-pointers.
“Things came easy because of the offensive flow,” George said. “Also, playing a team for the fourth time, I knew how they were going to guard me and I tried to take advantage of it.”
The Hornets would make one last attempt at a comeback, opening the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run that would pull them within 10 points. But Indiana answered back with a run of its own, using a 14-2 spurt to go ahead by 22. Indiana’s largest lead of the game was 25 in the fourth quarter.
Wednesday night’s loss to Indiana was Charlotte’s third straight and its fourth in its previous five games. Indiana (35-33) is trying to maintain its hold on the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed, while the Hornets (29-39) sit four games out of the final playoff spot.
“You could see it right from the beginning of the game (George) had a look in his eye. Once he got into a rhythm, it’s hard to stop him,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “When we play well at both ends of the floor, we’ve been a good team. Tonight, our defense was good enough – except for the Paul George stuff – (but) we were poor offensively.”
Pacers: Have won only two of their last seven against Charlotte. … Since the All-Star break, the Pacers have held nine of their 11 opponents to fewer than 100 points. … Indiana has also outrebounded its opponents in nine of its 11 games since the All-Star break. … Indiana made four times as many 3-pointers as Charlotte did Wednesday night, finishing with 12, compared to the Hornets’ three.
Hornets: Are 4-11 this season when trailing after the third quarter.
Hornets: host Washington on Saturday
Pacers: visit Toronto on Sunday.