MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Indiana and Memphis entered their Monday match-up ranked as the two best defenses in the NBA.
The Pacers proved their billing as the NBA’s top defensive team in a fitting result that came down to a free throw and a made shot that didn’t beat the final buzzer.
George Hill’s free throw with 1.4 seconds to play was the difference in Indiana’s 82-81 win in Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Day at FedExForum.
Rudy Gay made a well-contested shot over Paul George after a timeout, but clearly after the final horn.
“We labored to score the whole game,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “When you set up against a good defensive team and don’t get easy looks, it’s tough. They have great length. Neither team really got to the free throw line.”
Memphis (26-14) made all seven of its free throws. Indiana made 6 of 11.
The Pacers (26-16) shot nearly 50 percent, beating Memphis’ season average. Memphis was held to 42.2 percent, under Indiana’s season average. Gay and Zach Randolph were a combined 12 for 36 for Memphis.
The Pacers had 11 blocked shots, a season-high five from David West and four from Roy Hibbert. Indiana now has double-digit blocks in two straight games, has gone five straight with seven or more and are ranked third in the league.
George narrowly missed a triple-double. He had 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Indiana had 20 of the game’s 35 turnovers.
Memphis hit only 4 of 10 from 3-point range while the Pacers hit 8 of 17. Wayne Ellington did make all three of his 3-point attempts for Memphis but Marc Gasol scored only six points on only four shots.
Hibbert and West made it tough. West had 14 points, Hill 13 and Hibbert 10.
“We are pretty much identical,” George said. “Offensively we play the same style. Me and Rudy Gay are similar. Pretty much all of our lineup has a lot of similarities.”
Hollins wouldn’t go as far as saying the two teams mirrored.
“We just couldn’t attack them inside,” he said. “Every time we went to the basket, here comes Hibbert. … We didn’t even have a chance to get up at the basket because it was blocked.”
Hustle tied it. Up two, Indiana nearly forced two turnovers and Hibbert blocked Mike Conley’s lay-up. Hibbert got the ball but had it taken away by a hustling Tony Allen. Allen found Randolph open under the goal for the tie with 10.5 seconds to play.
Conley was called for a foul with 1.4 seconds left.
Hill missed the first and Gay took one step too many near the top of the key. The play was reviewed as Indiana left the court.
“We have confidence in Paul off the top guarding just about anybody in the league,” West said. “He did a good job staying down and making him take the extra dribble.”
Ellington had a game-high 17 points off the bench. Gay had 14 points and eight rebounds. Randolph had 13. Memphis is off Tuesday before hosting the Lakers Wednesday. The Grizzlies lost a half-game on San Antonio in the Southwest, while Indiana tied Miami for the East’s best record.
Hollins said the final play didn’t go as he called it. He was looking for Ellington to take a shot from the corner.
“It was just a little bit too late. I wish I would have had it back,” Gay said. “Mike passed me the ball so I just tried to make the shot. You don’t have time.”
Each team had runs in third quarter. Down nine, Memphis used a 14-0 run to take a 53-48 lead. The Grizzlies held the Pacers scoreless for nearly 5 minutes in the run. Indiana scored eight straight points to close the quarter with a 65-63 lead on Orlando Johnson’s 3-pointer.
Both teams had their droughts in the second quarter. It took the Pacers nearly 4 minutes to score as Memphis took a 31-26 lead. Memphis scored 12 points in the quarter but the Pacers led 43-39 at the half.
“We knew it was going to be a defensive game,” Allen said. “They made plays down the stretch. You’ve got to pay attention to detail, stay keyed in on the defensive end and execute offensively. I thought they did a better job of doing that.”
West had three blocks in the first quarter but there was an unusual amount of scoring. Gay and Randolph were a combined 2 for 13 but the Grizzlies led 27-26. Indiana swept the season series for the first time since 2007.
Indiana led by six with 6:58 to play but Conley’s 3-pointer gave Memphis a 79-78 lead with 2:10 left. George quieted the crowd of 17,508 with a 3-ball of his own for a two-point lead. Ninety seconds passed before another point was scored. After Conley missed from deep, Hill lost the ball off his foot and Memphis missed three shots before Allen got it to Randolph.
“They make the decisions, not me,” Conley said of the final foul call.
“I should have stopped him from getting to the paint. It shouldn’t have come to that point. They do their job. I’ve got to do mine.”