Pacers' playoff push gets jumpstart with win over 76ers
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers got exactly what they needed Monday night.
A win over the league's worst team.
Paul George finished with 15 points and six rebounds and Monta Ellis added 13 points to help Indiana coast past the still reeling Philadelphia 76ers 91-75 and jumpstart a late-season playoff push.
''The good thing is we've got a nice home stretch, we're going through the home stretch and we've got a good chance to make a push toward sixth, fifth, fourth in the East,'' George said.
In front of one of the smallest crowds at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season and with the energy and passion lacking, the Pacers still made it look easy.
They never allowed the 76ers to take the lead, never permitted them to tie it after the first 3 1/2 minutes and only allowed Philadelphia to make it a one-possession game once over the final 42 1/2 minutes. It was good enough to snap a two-game losing streak and set up a 12-game final run that includes one of the friendliest schedules in the East.
Indiana has seven remaining home games left and only four left against teams that started Monday with a record at or above .500.
George and his teammates know what must be achieved over the final few weeks to avoid being left out of the postseason for the second straight year.
''We have aspirations of pushing ahead of the seventh spot (in the East), where we're at, but we also have to understand what's in the rearview mirror, too,'' coach Frank Vogel said. ''Right behind us is Detroit with an easy schedule, Chicago getting healthy and we've got to take care of our business.''
It wasn't that impressive for Indiana.
George was 4 of 16 from the field and 1 of 5 on 3-pointers. The Pacers shot 43.2 percent and the undermanned 76ers had a 10-7 rebounding advantage on the offensive glass.
Philadelphia, which has lost six straight and 19 of 20, hung around for three quarters but couldn't come completely back from a 9-0 first-quarter run that left it in a 21-10 deficit.
The 76ers got within 55-53 when Isaiah Canaan made a 3 with 7:06 to go in the third quarter. Canaan and Hollis Thompson each had 15 points to lead the 76ers.
But the Pacers answered with eight straight and pulled away in the fourth.
''We have played four games in five nights, you come into it without Jahlil (Okafor) but the (Robert) Covington, Richaun (Holmes) bodies, just that energy is a trick to manage,'' coach Brett Brown said. ''So we just tried to spin the group around as fresh legs on the court as much as we could. And to Indiana's credit, they're tough here.''
In November, the only other meeting between these teams this season, the Pacers forced 31 turnovers - the highest total in any game this season. On Monday, the 76ers cut that number to 16 while Indiana had 15.
HOME, SWEET, HOME
Monday night's victory assured the Pacers of another winning season on their home court. Indiana is 21-13 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, giving it 27 consecutive winning seasons at home - the NBA's longest active streak.
KEEPING HOPE ALIVE
Could Philadelphia's grand rebuilding project finally be ending? Before the game, Brown acknowledged the plan is embarking on a new phase.
''I feel like the rebuild as people know it, the severe rebuild as we have known it, those days are over,'' he said. ''We feel like we have a chance to go into a different place now. What that means in terms of wins, we don't know yet.''
76ers: Canaan made three 3s, giving him 158 this season and breaking a tie with Allen Iverson for No. 5 on the franchise's single-season list. ... Jerami Grant had 14 points while Nerlens Noel finished with eight points and eight rebounds. ... It was the first time since Dec. 13 that Philadelphia scored fewer than 80 points.
Pacers: Have won eight of the last nine this series, including five straight at home. ... George had two steals, making him the fourth Pacers player in their NBA history with 600 in his career. ... Ian Mahinmi and George Hill each had 12 points. Mahinmi also had 10 rebounds.
76ers: Visit Denver on Wednesday.
Pacers: Host New Orleans on Thursday.