INDIANAPOLIS — A talented team that embraces defense, shares the basketball and protects its home court better than anyone in the National Basketball Association. That’s the way Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel described his team after Friday night’s 91-79 victory over Central Division rival Chicago in soldout Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Central Division-leading Pacers appear to have no plans to yield the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
Fueled by a 17-0 third-quarter run, the Pacers improved to 51-18 with the victory against the Bulls, who have been playing very well of late. But Indiana got it going in the third quarter and pulled away.
“We really shared the basketball and moved the basketball,” said Vogel, noting 27 assists among his team’s 34 field goals. “We played for each other, and got great contributions from the bench. The starters came out at the start of the third quarter and took control of the game.”
The Pacers, now an NBA-best 32-4 at home this season, clung to a 46-45 lead early in the third quarter when they strung together a 17-0 run that created a 63-45 advantage at the 7:16 mark.
After making only 17 of 42 field-goal attempts during the first half (40.5 percent), Indiana sank 12 of 19 (63.2 percent) during the pivotal third quarter when it outscored Chicago 31-19. Guard Lance Stephenson made six of eight third-quarter shots and had 13 points in the period after producing just one basket before halftime. He finished with 15, four less than reserve forward Luis Scola’s 19.
“That third quarter was just about being aggressive,” Stephenson said. “We were being aggressive defensively and offensively. That third quarter showed, and then we played harder after that. Personally, I was just trying to make something happen. Our defense gave us some one-on-one plays. I decided to take it. The whole game, we played hard defense.”
Pacers forward Paul George had a triple-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
“For whatever reason, I was frustrated the whole game, but I was just trying to play the right game,” said George, who made only three of 13 field-goal tries. “I am trying to get efficient and get us the best shot possible”
Chicago got 17 each from guards Jimmy Butler and D.J. Augustine.
The Pacers’ 17-0 blitz included a flagrant foul against Bulls forward Carlos Boozer, who shoved Indiana center Roy Hibbert out of his way under the Chicago basket. Officials went to the monitor before confirming the flagrant one.
“Give them credit,” said Boozer, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds. “The third quarter especially hurt us. They got out in transition, and we missed some shots we usually make. They got a couple of steals, and we had a couple of turnovers. They got in transition, which gave them a big cushion. When we play them, it is like a 12-round championship fight.”
Indiana outrebounded Chicago 10-5 in the third quarter and turned the ball over only twice in the period after being guilty of 10 in a sloppy first half, after which the Pacers were fortunate to lead 44-43.
“This was about defensive effort more than anything,” said Vogel, whose Pacers limited the Bulls to 36.4 percent field-goal shooting (28 of 77). “We were great defensively. It has been improving the last four or five games.”
The Pacers were able to avoid losing more ground to Miami in the East after playing poorly Wednesday night in a 92-86 loss to the New York Knicks, snapping a four-game Indiana winning streak.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pointed to Indiana’s 51-36 rebounding advantage as a huge factor.
“The rebounding was the big concern,” Thibodeau said. “We have to correct that. You are not going to win on the road without rebounding.”
NOTES: Pacers C Andrew Bynum has continued soreness and swelling in his right knee, and according to team officials, will be out indefinitely. Bynum will continue to undergo treatment. … The Central Division-leading Pacers are 11-1 in contests played on Friday. … Indiana’s interior defense is the league’s best, allowing only 35.5 points in the paint per game. … Since Jan. 1, Chicago has won an Eastern Conference-best 26 games. … The Bulls have not lost consecutive games since falling Feb. 1 at New Orleans and Feb. 3 at Sacramento. … Indiana plays Saturday night at Memphis, while Chicago plays Philadelphia on Saturday in the United Center.
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