MILWAUKEE — Looking to halt a late-season swoon and prepare for one last regular-season showdown with the Miami Heat, Pacers coach Frank Vogel took a somewhat unconventional approach, giving all five of his starters the night off when Indiana faced the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
And though it came down to a layup by forward Chris Copeland with 1.2 seconds to go, the plan seemed to work as the Pacers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 104-102 victory over the Bucks.
“It was a great win for our guys, a great team effort,” Vogel said.
Indiana, which began the day just a half-game behind the Heat for the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference, had been slumping lately. The Pacers had dropped eight of their last 11 games and were coming off a 19-point home loss to Toronto Sunday.
With a trip to Miami set for Friday, Vogel toyed with the idea of resting a couple of his players but opted to instead bench the entire first unit in the hopes of giving the bench a rhythm.
The result was a season-high 31 minutes for forward Luis Scola, who led Indiana with a season-high 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting and nine rebounds.
Guard Evan Turner played 41 minutes and finished with 23 points, including three 3-pointers, and was 9-for-18 from the field and forward Rasual Butler finished with 10 points in 30 minutes of work.
But it was Copeland who came up big down the stretch, scoring 10 of his 18 in the final quarter. He hit two 3-pointers over the final 10 minutes and blew past Bucks guard Chris Wright for the game-winner.
“I figured I had a step on a rip through,” Copeland said. “I tried to rip through to the basket and just tried to use my size. I saw help coming so I shot it. I tried to just shoot the floater.”
Milwaukee had trailed by nine points in the final quarter before finally tying the game at 72-72 when point guard Ramon Sessions set up Wright for an alley-oop dunk with 10:56 to play. The Pacers responded with a 10-4 run before the Bucks answered with eight unanswered points and went ahead, 91-90, on forward Jeff Adrien’s pull-up jumper with 4:16 left.
The Bucks would force three more ties, the last coming with 4.9 seconds left when forward Khris Middleton laid into Pacers center Ian Mahinmi on a 3-point attempt and sank all three free throws to make it 102-102 before Copeland ended the comeback effort.
“Losing a game like that, it’ll sting a little,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “Here we are with four games left to play and nothing to really play for but pride and pride itself. I try to remind these guys that even with this situation, we still have to go out there and compete.”
Sessions scored nine of his 20 in the final quarter while point guard Brandon Knight had 10 in the fourth and finished with 25 for the Bucks, who also got 16 from Middleton and 15 from center Zaza Pachulia.
Adrien finished with 13 points and set a career high with 17 rebounds.
“We played well but not well enough to win,” Drew said. “We didn’t make some key plays in the fourth quarter and gave up a couple of offensive rebounds off the free-throw line. We did some good things but not enough good things to win the game.”
The Pacers came into the game having lost seven of their past 10. They have already clinched a playoff berth and the Central Division title.
Still, Vogel opted to rest his starters in advance of Indiana’s showdown with the Heat on Friday night in Miami.
“We played a disturbing game against the Atlanta Hawks last week,” Vogel said. “We need to change our focus and make some adjustments even if this is a drastic move to get ourselves playing right.”
All but Hibbert, who was inactive, were dressed for the game, but Vogel said he would not use them under any circumstance and informed the league of his decision Wednesday morning.
NOTES: Bucks C Larry Sanders began his five-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy Wednesday. Sanders was suspended for a third positive marijuana test earlier this month but has played in just 23 games due to injuries. Sanders’ suspension will cover Milwaukee’s last five games, making him able to open the season in 2014. … Indiana earned its sixth straight win against the Bucks and prevailed for the 11th time in the past 13 meetings.
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