MILWAUKEE — Before they took the court Saturday night, the first-place Indiana Pacers held a 31-game lead over the last-place Milwaukee Bucks in the Central Division — the largest disparity between two teams in all of the NBA.
Indiana made it a 32-game lead thanks to a 110-100 victory over Milwaukee at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, but the struggling Bucks did not make it easy.
“They fought,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “You have to give coach (Larry) Drew credit. He’s got these guys still playing hard despite their circumstance. They made a lot of big shots in the second half.
“We didn’t play our best game but we played well enough to get a ‘W.'”
Down by as many as 22 in the second quarter, the Bucks stormed out of half-time on an 11-2 run and got within three when forward Khris Middleton connected on a 3-pointer to make it 53-50 with 9:23 left in the quarter.
But while Middleton scored 10 of his 12 points in the quarter, the Pacers’ forwards Paul George and David West combined for 20, to give Indiana a seven-point lead through three.
“We’ve been in this position before where we’ve been up early and teams have been able to come back,” said George, who led the Pacers with 32 points. “That’s an area where we’ve got to improve. Once we get up big we’ve got to be able to maintain that lead or push it further. I thought they did a great job. Brandon Knight really sparked a lot of energy. Once one guy gets hot if flows throughout a team and I thought that’s what happened.”
Milwaukee would challenge again in the fourth, but couldn’t get any closer than five the rest of the as Pacers guard Lance Stephenson scored 15 of his 24 points over the final 12 minutes, including a 3-pointer with 4:45 left that made it a 12-point game.
The Bucks were 10-for-21 from the field and made four 3-pointers during the final quarter but committed five turnovers and allowed the Pacers to shoot 52 percent.
“We had an opportunity but we didn’t capitalize when it was about a four or five-point game,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “We came out of a couple of time-outs and we didn’t execute very well. We had some defensive breakdowns, lost some shooters and defensively, just had breakdown after breakdown right when I thought when the game was within striking distance.”
Drew was pleased with what he saw out of forward Jeff Adrien who was acquired Thursday from Charlotte along with point guard Ramon Sessions.
Adrien played 18 minutes and finished with just six points, but pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds, five of them on the offensive end.
“He brought a physical presence that I was really, really happy to see,” Drew said. “He didn’t back down, not one bit, from any of those guys out there and that’s who he is; he’s a guy that does dirty work and he’s going to bring a physical presence when he steps out on the floor.”
Sessions played 22 minutes, often sharing the backcourt with point guard Brandon Knight, who led the Bucks with 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting.
“That’s one of the top two teams in the NBA,” Knight said. “For us not to give in and not lay down, it means a lot for our team because there have been times throughout the season when we’d lay down when we got down 20. We continued to fight, continued to persevere and we got back in the game.”
Forward Ersan Ilyasova added 12 and forward John Henson finished with 10 for the Bucks, who have lost two in a row and six of their last seven.
West finished with 30 for Indiana, which snapped a two-game road losing streak and hasn’t lost consecutive games since Dec. 16-18.
NOTES: F Evan Turner and C Lavoy Allen were not with the Pacers. The two were obtained Thursday from Philadelphia and were undergoing physicals in Indianapolis. Coach Frank Vogel said he plans to have a practice Sunday to get his team on the same page. … Milwaukee honored former F Glenn Robinson at halftime. Robinson was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft and averaged 21.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 688 games for the Bucks from 1994-2002.
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