Whether it was the Central Division-leading Pacers’ pounding defense, a seeming lack of willpower on Houston’s part, or all of the above, Wednesday just wasn’t the Rockets’ night.
It was a night where Houston Shooting guard James Harden went 6-for-24 from the field against the Pacers’ Paul George, while George himself went just 4-for-17. And yet the Pacers, who were without Danny Granger and David West, beat the Rockets 100-91 Wednesday night at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Roy Hibbert would not be denied. All he did was dominate the lane by scoring a game-high 28 points with 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Meanwhile, Stephenson tacked on an additional 21 points, a season-high for him, and Tyler Hansbrough put up 16 points.
This is a far cry from the Pacers team that had lost 4 of its last 6 games as of two weeks ago. The Pacers, now winners of five of their last six games, appear to have regained their swagger, much to the dismay of the Rockets, who saw their 3-game win streak snapped.
“I told the guys if they get beat, don’t foul them,” Hibbert said. “Let me take care of them at the rim.”
Houston shot 38.6 percent, which just doesn’t cut it against a stingy Pacers defense. It was obvious Pacers coach Frank Vogel was pleased. Said Vogel, “I thought our defensive execution was off-the-charts good. Even when they were scoring, it was them scoring on the right coverage. We know that if we execute the right coverage, they’re going to score at a very low rate. Our defense was maybe the best it’s been all year.”
The Pacers, who shot nearly 61 percent in the frame, led 35-19 by the end of the first quarter. Fifteen of those points came courtesy of Roy Hibbert, who shot 7 out of 10. Four Houston turnovers combined for an additional 8 points. On any other night, you might have expected Harden to step up with a few 3-pointers and a slew of free throws. But instead, he shot just 30 percent from outside the arch. And no one else on this lethargic Rockets team made more than one 3-pointer.
The Pacers’ lead by as much as 19 points in the second, only to see the Rockets go on a 20-7 tear. Jeremy Lin shot a 3-pointer to close the gap to 4 points, 68-64, with just under 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
But the Indiana put an end to the rally with around 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the quarter, and pushed its lead to 10 points. Five quick points from George put the Pacers up 80-67.
From a statistical standpoint, this was an impressive performance by Hibbert. Consider the fact that Rockets center Omer Asik had been so successful guarding the Spurs’ Tim Duncan man-to-man just two days prior in a Houston win. Houston took had hoped this same strategy would work against Hibbert. But alas, Hibbert proved otherwise and Houston paid the price. It was the fourth straight game in which he made a double-double.