CLEVELAND — The Pacers don’t win with artistic beauty. Most times, they simply pummel teams into submission.
Indiana plays ugly, and ugly usually wins.
"No style points," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "None. Zero."
Paul George scored 16 points, Roy Hibbert made a putback and two free throws in the final 1:09 and the Pacers turned to their defense to hold off Cleveland’s late rally for an 82-78 win over the short-handed Cavaliers.
The Pacers led by 16 in the fourth before guard Dion Waiters brought Cleveland back by scoring 12 straight points in a 16-1 run that got the Cavs within 75-74 with 3:35 left. Hibbert’s free throw with 7.9 seconds left put the Pacers up 81-78, and Indiana got the ball back when Cavs forward Earl Clark stepped on the sideline on a poorly executed inbounds play with 6.9 left.
David West made one free throw with 5.4 seconds remaining, and the Pacers escaped with their seventh win in eight games. At 27-6, Indiana has the NBA’s best record — now that’s pretty.
"We didn’t finish the game the right way," West said. "They hung around and made some shots, but our defense held strong."
C.J. Miles scored 21 and Waiters had 14 for the Cavaliers, who played their third game in a row without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. He has a bruised knee and his backup, Jarrett Jack, sat with back spasms.
The Pacers had to grind this one out after taking control with 14-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters.
"I know coach is going to be on us about giving up a big lead, but we know how to play in that situation," George said. "We’ve been through that before. The best thing for us is to stay together and we were able to hold them off the last couple of possessions."
Lance Stephenson made a 3-pointer as Indiana closed the third with a 7-0 run and then extended the lead to 16 by opening the fourth with another 7-0 burst capped by Danny Granger’s 3.
That’s when Waiters, the subject of trade rumors for weeks, brought the Cavs back. He reeled off 12 in a row and fed Anderson Varejao with two nice assists to get the Cavs within 79-78.
Hibbert split a pair of free throws, but on Cleveland’s next trip, Waiters missed a 3 and then forced a layup in traffic. Hibbert’s free throw gave the Pacers a two-point cushion, but Cleveland couldn’t execute a simple inbounds pass without a turnover and West put it away with his late free throw.
"It’s another tough loss," Waiters said. "We fought back. We never put our heads down when they went up 16. These kinds of losses hurt because we were right there. We’ve been there all year long, and once we find a way to close these games out we’ll be really good."
Hibbert added 15 points and West 11 for the Pacers, who shot just 36 percent from the floor, but played their typically stout defense.
Indiana has won nine straight over Cleveland and 15 of 16.
Tristan Thompson added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavs, who have reportedly been involved in talks with the Los Angeles Lakers for a trade involving Andrew Bynum for Pau Gasol.
The enigmatic Bynum was recently dismissed from the team for detrimental conduct and the Cavs would like to deal or release the 7-footer by Tuesday, when his contract will be guaranteed. The injury-ravaged Lakers would consider bringing back Bynum — he spent seven seasons with Los Angeles — so they could cut him, clear salary-cap space and avoid paying the luxury tax.
The Pacers, who fell behind by 14 before rallying to beat New Orleans on Saturday, shot only 37 percent in the first half but used a 9-2 spurt to close the second quarter and lead 44-35 at the break.
NOTES: Indiana came in allowing a league-low 88.9 points per game. … Cavs coach Mike Brown would not comment on the trade rumors swirling around his team, and particularly about Bynum, who was banned from all team activities on Dec. 28. Waiters and Varejao have both been mentioned in various deals. … Vogel says his team is a target every time it takes the floor. "It’s not so much that they’re gunning for us," he said. "I think everybody looks at us and says, ‘If we beat the Pacers, that’s going to be a quality win.’ You do get their best shot from that standpoint. Teams recognize that you have to play a great basketball game to beat us."