Having committed eight turnovers, Indiana guard George Hill was looking to do something positive for his team when he stepped to the free throw line with 1.4 seconds left.
Then Hill missed the first of two free throws.
”I missed the first one, and got a little nervous,” Hill said of standing there between free throws with the game tied at 81.
Hill made the second, and the Pacers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 82-81 on Monday when Rudy Gay’s bank shot was ruled to have come after the final buzzer.
”I think (the turnovers were) what rattled me a little bit,” Hill said of the missed first shot. ”I was thinking too much about the turnovers and me possibly redeeming myself to make it all look a little better.”
Even after Hill made the second free throw for the lead, the Pacers had to endure a last-gasp effort by the Grizzlies.
Memphis guard Mike Conley inbounded the ball to Gay, who, with Paul George guarding him, took dribbled inside the 3-point line and fired a shot that banked in.
But officials ruled the shot came after the horn, a call confirmed on replay, and the Pacers left the floor with the victory.
”I think I kind of played him into that,” George said of Gay running off too much clock with a dribble to create space before the shot. ”I jammed his right hand, and that kind of took the whole time off. I didn’t want him to catch and go to his strong hand and give him time to get his shot off.”
Hill’s clinching free throw gave him 13 points, and George finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Central Division-leading Pacers. David West led Indiana scorers with 14 points. Roy Hibbert scored 10 points.
Wayne Ellington led the Grizzlies with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including connecting on all three shots from outside the arc. Gay had 14 points, and Conley and Zach Randolph scored 13 apiece. Gay had eight rebounds and Randolph grabbed seven boards.
The game featured 19 lead changes and 10 ties, the final deadlock as Hill stepped to the line after Conley fouled him on a drive.
”I should have stopped him from getting into the paint,” Conley said of the foul that had the Memphis faithful howling because of the last-second call. ”It shouldn’t have gotten to that point. They did their job, and I have to do mine.”
The Pacers blocked 11 shots – five by West and four by Hibbert – a testament to their interior defense.
But Indiana had trouble taking care of the ball, committing 20 turnovers, compared to 15 for the Grizzlies.
Other statistical categories from rebounds (35-34 Grizzlies) to 14 second-chance points apiece were further indications of a close game.
”We knew it was going to be a defensive battle, and that it was going to be a tough game,” Memphis guard Tony Allen said. ”They made plays down the stretch. We have to pay attention to details. We have to communicate on the defensive end and execute offensively.”
The teams scrapped through a tightly-played first half that featured 15 lead changes and six ties.
The Pacers were able to pull away in the final 9 minutes of the half, thanks to a 15-4 run that erased Memphis’ largest lead of the half.
The rally helped Indiana carry a 43-39 lead at halftime as both teams had key players struggling with their shooting. West was 4 of 10 for Indiana, but Memphis struggled through much more inaccuracy.
The Grizzlies front line of Gay, Marc Gasol and Randolph was a combined 4 of 20, helping Memphis shoot 39 percent in the half.
The Memphis bench did provide a bit of a lift with 18 points, eight of them from Ellington, who connected on a pair of 3-pointers.
Memphis used defense to get its offense untracked in the second half. Through the first 8 minutes, Indiana had taken only six shots and had six turnovers.
That allowed Memphis to score 14 straight points to retake the lead.
For the quarter, Indiana was 8 of 12 from the field, and the Pacers used a 3-pointer from Orlando Johnson late in the third to hold a 65-63 lead entering the fourth.
The game remained tight through the early stages of the fourth until consecutive baskets by Tyler Hansbrough and a rebound basket by Hibbert broke a 70-all tie, giving the Pacers a bit of a buffer near the 7-minute mark.
Indiana maintained the lead until a 3-pointer from Conley with 2:10 left gave Memphis a 79-78 lead.
George immediately answered with a 3-pointer for the Indiana lead at 81-79.
”That was a huge answer-back three,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. ”.That is competitive spirit rising up. That was a huge play.”
Tony Allen’s hustle was what pulled Memphis back even. He grabbed an offensive re bound with about 30 second left, then stole the ball from Hibbert after an Indiana rebound with 11.7 seconds remaining.
That set up his pass to Randolph to tie the game at 81 with 10.5 seconds left.
The Pacers, who are now 10-13 on the road and have struggled against top teams, relished the idea of starting a four-game road trip with a win over one of the top four teams in the Western Conference.
”Coming in here, knowing it was going to be a tough environment, it was important,” Hill said of the win. ”(The Grizzlies) play well at home, and we knew it was going to be a scrappy, playoff mentality-type game.
”We knew we had to turn things around,” Hill said. ”Coach challenged us to be above a .500 road team, and it started with (Monday).”
NOTES: The game was the 11th Annual Martin Luther King Day game hosted by the Grizzlies. Memphis is now 5-6 on the holiday. … The Grizzlies honored former NBA players Elgin Baylor and Patrick Ewing, along with former NFL great Jim Brown with the Eighth Annual National Civil Rights Legacy Award, as part of the day’s ceremonies.