The Indiana Pacers came into Wednesday’s game versus the Utah Jazz with a pristine 16-2 record. While the Jazz gave them a good fight, the Pacers showed why they currently are NBA’s best. Indiana’s combination of veteran ability and defense in the last 14 minutes ultimately propelled the team to a 95-86 victory over Utah.
Coming off the heels of just its second loss, Indiana appeared out of sorts early on as the Jazz played the role of the aggressors. Utah came out firing and hitting, leading 23-17 after an impressive first quarter. Despite some rough sequences in the middle two quarters, the Jazz were within striking distance until midway in the fourth. The Pacers simply made the plays that contenders make down the stretch. They resolutely defended, making most shots difficult ones for Utah. And they were patient with their offensive execution, capitalizing on some good looks at the basket.
Savvy veterans: Indiana gave the Miami Heat all it could handle in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, thanks in large part to the play of the stalwart veterans. The Pacers core showed that same cagey presence against the Jazz, along with improved depth.
Each Indiana starter finished in double-figures, led by All-Star and All-NBA swingman Paul George’s 19 points. George’s play in the final three minutes helped seal the deal for the Pacers. The vastly Lance Stephenson did much of his damage in the first half, as his all-around game was in full display (15 points, five rebounds, four assists). David West’s shot was off, but he led Indiana with eight assists. Roy Hibbert’s defensive presence was instrumental, as were his 13 points and nine rebounds.
A pair of offseason veteran additions showed what the team has added to the rotation. Forward Luis Scola’s midrange jumper was honed in, and he finished with 14 points and six rebounds in a mere 16 minutes. Point guard C.J. Watson added eight points, including a pair of big 3-pointers.
Youthful promise: The bright aspect of the loss for Utah was the performance of its young players. Trey Burke continues his electric play, this time focusing more on creating for his teammates. His passing was spot-on as he handed out a career-high nine assists, including six in the first half (with only one turnover). Derrick Favors had perhaps his best game of the season, adding 22 points and 13 rebounds. And Enes Kanter took advantage of his return to the starting lineup with 20 points and 10 rebounds of his own.
This and that:
- Indiana’s reserves outscored their Utah counterparts, 28-15. The Jazz were without Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans, which depleted their bench.
- After two scoreless outings, Utah guard Brandon Rush registered his first points in a Jazz uniform.
- The Pacers were a handful inside, pouring in 54 points compared to the Jazz’s 38.
- Indiana had 24 assists with just eight turnovers, an excellent 3:1 ratio.
- Pacers forward Chris Copeland, who was rumored to be an offseason Jazz target, did not play.
David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also writes for Salt City Hoops (ESPN.com's Jazz affiliate). He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.