Roy Hibbert wasn’t available the last time the Indiana Pacers faced the Los Angeles Clippers. This time he was, and that made all the difference Monday night in a battle between division leaders.
Hibbert scored 15 of his 26 points in the first quarter and grabbed 10 rebounds before fouling out, and the Pacers barely completed a sweep of their four-game road trip with a 109-106 victory.
”I just wanted to get out of the gates early, be aggressive, make the right plays and don’t force things,” Hibbert said. ”Obviously, you don’t want to lose a 24-point lead, but we got the victory. We knew they were going to make a run, but the fact that we weathered the storm is great.”
Hibbert, who was serving a one-game suspension from the league when the Pacers lost to the Clippers 99-91 at Indianapolis on Feb. 28, made all eight of his shots in the first half and finished 11 for 14 from the field to help his team extend its winning streak to five and increase its Central Division lead to 6 1/2 games over idle Chicago. Paul George added 23 points and 10 assists.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, whose games this season have fluctuated between dominant and invisible, played 17 scoreless minutes and went to the bench for good with 6:26 left in the third quarter. The Clippers were outscored 42-25 while he was on the floor.
”Roy’s good, man. He’s skilled. He can use both hands and he’s a big body,” Jordan said. ”They have a lot of guys who can drive, so you’ve got to help – and when you help, he’s got the hammer. He really got going early on tonight. He didn’t really get a lot of stuff in the post. It was more jump shots from the elbow.”
All five Pacers starters scored in double figures, with David West getting 16 and backcourt mates Lance Stephenson and George Hill chipping in with 13 apiece.
Jamal Crawford scored 25 points off the bench for the Pacific Division-leading Clippers, whose magic number to clinch the first division title in the franchise’s 43-year history remained at two. They failed on their third attempt at their 50th victory, which would break the franchise record set by the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves. Blake Griffin had 17 points.
Los Angeles is 2-4 since clinching its second straight playoff berth. The Clippers host Phoenix on Wednesday.
”We’ve had three chances to get to 50 wins, and we still haven’t been able to do it. So Wednesday’s a big game for us,” said Chris Paul, who had 10 points and eight assists. ”We’ve got to approach it like a playoff game. Most teams are approaching us like that. Every game is a big game, and we’ve got to try and get some wins before the playoffs.”
West, playing his third game after missing the previous six with a lower back sprain, capped a 12-2 run on a 16-footer that gave the Pacers their biggest lead, 79-55, with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
The Clippers, playing almost the first 8 minutes of the fourth quarter with all of their starters on the bench, narrowed the gap to 89-81 on Eric Bledsoe’s 11-footer with 7:24 to play.
West then tipped the ball away from Crawford near midcourt and got it back from George for a fast-break layup that gave the Pacers a nine-point edge. Paul reported back in with 4:07 remaining and set up Crawford at the right sideline for a 3-pointer that cut the margin to 97-93 with 3:38 left.
”They have the best bench in the game, and you’ve got to account for those guys,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ”Jamal Crawford is a nightmare for coaches preparing to play those guys. They made a furious comeback, but our guys showed a great deal of guts.”
Hibbert fouled out for the fifth time this season with 1:35 remaining and the Pacers ahead 99-93. The Clippers briefly seized the moment, as Paul converted the ensuing free throws and Griffin added a dunk to bring Los Angeles within 99-97 with 1:11 to go. But West canned a fadeaway jumper, and the Pacers clinched it by making all eight free throws in the final 32 seconds.
”I’m just disappointed,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”Just not enough effort from the starters to get us off to a good start, or a consistent 48 minutes of effort. We dug ourselves too big a hole and had to use a lot of energy from the bench to get us back in it. But they shot too high a percentage and made too many 3s (10 for 23).”
The Pacers never trailed, opening the game with a 10-0 run and holding a 51-43 lead at halftime. Clippers rugged forward Matt Barnes, who doesn’t need much provocation to get agitated, was called for a flagrant foul 1 when he dragged Stephenson to the floor by the left arm near the Pacers’ basket with 4:27 left in the third quarter and the Clippers in a 73-55 hole.
”Our first unit, I was disappointed in how we played,” Paul said. ”We didn’t come out with any type of intensity, we weren’t getting stops and we started off by giving them a 10-point cushion. If not for our second unit, the game would have been over a long time ago.
”In that third quarter we started coming back, but it’s tough because you’re almost in a situation where you can’t mess up. Every play becomes a big play. We played great in the second half, it’s just that we had to play almost perfect in order to win.”
Los Angeles scored 100 points for the 45th time this season, equaling the most by the club since the 1993-94 squad did it 48 times under coach Bill Fitch. The franchise mark for triple-digit games is 73, set in 1978-79 under coach Gene Shue, when the Clippers played their first season in San Diego after leaving Buffalo. Their highest total in Los Angeles is 65 games, in 1992-93 under Larry Brown.
NOTES: The Pacers’ 48-27 record is their best since they finished a franchise-best 61-21 in 2003-04. But they are only 19-19 on the road. … The loss snapped the Clippers’ franchise-record streak of 10 straight wins against Eastern Conference opponents. … Los Angeles has a better winning percentage when Griffin scores fewer than 20 points (28-14) than it does when he gets 20 or more (20-11). … Griffin’s hurried 19-footer over Tyler Hansbrough from the left sideline was short, but Caron Butler made a leaping tip-in to beat the halftime buzzer. … Clippers reserve F Lamar Odom – still looking for his 300th career double-double – came within one point getting it. He has played in 128 regular-season games since his previous one on April 8, 2011, when he had 13 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers at Portland. Odom has started only seven games during that stretch. … Griffin posted career highs of 47 points and 19 field goals against the Pacers on Jan. 17, 2011, at Los Angeles.