For a half, Rudy Gay dominated Paul George. The way George had started the season, Gay knew better than to think it would last.
George scored 17 of his 23 points in the third quarter and the Indiana Pacers beat the Toronto Raptors 91-84 Friday night to improve to 6-0 and match the best start in franchise history. George, who entered the day fourth in the league in scoring at 25.8 points per game, is a big reason.
”He’s Paul,” Gay said. ”Paul George is a great defender. He’s not just going to sit down and let people score on him. Everybody on our team expected him to warm up.”
Gay scored a season-high 30 points on 12-of-26 shooting for the Raptors, but was held to 3-of-13 shooting after halftime. George bounced back from a five-point, 2-of-10 first half to completely change the tenor of the small forward matchup on both ends of the floor. Gay’s 22 points had carried Toronto to a 46-44 lead at intermission.
”Thank God he just stopped making those contested shots,” George said. ”It was frustrating because he was hitting some tough ones, but in this league, jump shots don’t always last. So I was just trying to pressure up and contest all his shots.”
Toronto lost its third straight to fall to 2-4. Amir Johnson added 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Raptors shot 39.5 percent from the field, becoming the sixth consecutive opponent Indiana has held to 40 percent shooting or worse.
Roy Hibbert added a season-high 20 points and seven rebounds as the Pacers remained the NBA’s lone undefeated team.
”Everybody has to sacrifice something,” Hibbert said. ”It’s somebody different every night. I don’t expect to have 20-point nights all the time.”
The Pacers improved to 6-0 for the first time since the 1970-71, when the club played in the ABA. They rallied from a halftime deficit for the fifth time this season and overcame 16 turnovers to shoot 46.2 percent.
George made an arcing 3 over a leaping Landry Fields at the third-quarter buzzer and clinched his fists in celebration before sprinting to Indiana’s bench and slapping hands with teammates. George outscored the Raptors 17-13 in the period while shooting 5 of 9 from the field and making all five free throws. The Pacers led 72-59 entering the fourth quarter.
While George had Hibbert’s scoring and 14 points from George Hill, Gay never received much support. His usual wingman, DeMar DeRozan, entered averaging 19.2 points per game but scored just six and missed 13 of 15 shots.
”It’s tough on the whole team when DeMar struggles,” Gay said. ”I have to figure out how we can make us both comfortable at the same time.”
George added eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. His sensational start to his fourth season had fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse peppering him with the occasional ”M-V-P” chant.
Toronto used a 19-7 run over the final 5:17 of the first quarter to lead 32-22. The Raptors had success running with nine fast-break points in the period but produced just two more the rest of the game.
”They stopped sending guys to the (offensive) boards,” said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who had 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. ”They just let Roy and David (West) go to the boards so other guys could get back.”
The Pacers limited transition opportunities and kept Toronto off the 3-point line in the second quarter to get back in the game. Orlando Johnson had five points and an assist in a 12-0 Pacers run early in the second quarter that tied it at 34. Hibbert’s fallaway 18-footer at the halftime buzzer completed a 5-2 spurt.
Indiana started the second half on a 10-0 run and led by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter before finishing off its fourth home victory.
NOTES: Hill returned after missing three games with a sore left hip. C.J. Watson scored 33 points in three games starting in Hill’s place. … Pacers forward Danny Granger, who has yet to play this season because of a strained left calf, may return to practice next week. … The Raptors won both visits to Bankers Life Fieldhouse last season. … Tyler Hansbrough, drafted by Indiana with the No. 13 pick in 2009, returned for the first time since signing with Toronto as a free agent in July. He entered to a mixed reaction in the first quarter and finished with four points and five rebounds in 19 minutes. . Pacers guard Lance Stephenson limped off the floor in the first minute of the second quarter with a sore left knee but returned to start the second half.