Indiana fans gave Victor Oladipo a warm welcome to the NBA on Tuesday night.
Then the Pacers gave Oladipo and his Orlando teammates the cold shoulder.
Paul George’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter spurred a 21-4 run, finally sending Indiana past the Magic 97-87 in a tougher-than-expected opening night matchup.
"We’ve got to win the battles, win the tough games and we’ve got to win the games that we should win," George said. "We have to take care of business early and not rely on the end of the season to start playing well and start getting a streak going. We have to start a streak early."
They got off to a good start Tuesday — even though it was a little ragged for a team that might have the best chance of unseating two-time defending NBA champion Miami.
Indiana committed 20 turnovers and gave up 13 offensive rebounds against the worst team in the league last season.
Roy Hibbert, who was two rebounds short of his career-high (17) in the first half, grabbed only one in the second half and left midway through the fourth quarter after an awkward tumble underneath his own basket that left him grasping at his knee. A few moments later, the 7-foot-2 former All-Star limped to the bench and coach Frank Vogel said Hibbert is expected to play Wednesday night at New Orleans.
Despite the struggles, the Pacers still managed to get things done.
George finished with 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Lance Stephenson had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Hibbert scored just eight points but had 16 rebounds and seven blocks and the rebuilt bench played a huge role, scoring all but four points during the decisive run.
It left Vogel optimistic about the season.
"Our bench, in the last three preseason games and tonight, really just blew the game open," he said. "I think they’re going to be really strong, I think it was just a matter of nerves tonight."
The Pacers were aware they were facing split allegiances in Oladipo’s adopted home state.
More than 90 minutes before tipoff, one section near the court was almost completely full of fans decked out in Indiana University colors or fans wearing new Magic jerseys, far more than the 18 to 20 people Oladipo said he gave tickets to.
When the former Indiana star wasn’t announced as a starter, the fans saved a rousing standing ovation for Oladipo’s grand entrance — midway through the first quarter. But by the third quarter most of those cheers were drowned out by a smattering of boos, a sign that Oladipo is no longer just the hometown kid.
The Magic were led by Andrew Nicholson, who scored all 18 of his points in the first half. Maurice Harkless added 14 and Jameer Nelson had 12 as the Magic shot 38.7 percent from the field.
But most of the near sellout crowd wanted to see how quickly and smoothly Oladipo could make the transition from college star to NBA franchise player. He finished 4 of 11 from the field with 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and three turnovers.
"It was a great atmosphere. There were a lot of Hoosier fans in there," he said. "I would have liked to have won, but overall it was pretty cool."
The short-handed Magic still had a chance after Ronnie Price cut the Pacers lead to 65-64 with 6.1 seconds left in the third quarter.
After the basket, Orlando was called for delay of game and David West made the free throw. George then took the inbounds pass from his own baseline, drove to within 26 feet and made a 3 from beyond the top of the key to give Indiana a 69-64 lead.
Indiana’s rebuilt bench then took control. The backups scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 10, and that 12-4 run made it 86-68 with 7:35 left.
Orlando, even with Oladipo, couldn’t challenge the Eastern Conference runner-ups again.
"We have to be dominant at home if we hope to compete for the one seed with the likes of Brooklyn, New York, Chicago and Miami," Vogel said. "You have to be dominant at home."
NOTES: Indiana recognized last season’s Central Division title banner during pregame introductions. … Pacers fans got a special preview of the 15-foot statue of Larry Bird that will be dedicated at a formal ceremony next weekend on the campus of Indiana State, Bird’s alma mater. It was temporarily placed in the lobby of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. … The Pacers lead the all-time series with Orlando 45-44. … Indiana Hoosiers coach Tom Crean told Orlando’s Fox affiliate that he would miss Oladipo’s scoring and deflections more than his singing. … Orlando’s Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb sat out with sprained ankles.