INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Suspensions, injuries, poor shooting. It doesn’t matter. The Indiana Pacers just keep finding ways to win.
It was the Pacers’ third straight victory and capped an emotional seven-day stretch that included having their top three players suspended for fighting with Detroit fans.
“It’s always hard to win three games in a row in this league, no matter what,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “To win three against the opponents we did, under the circumstances, was really exceptional.”
The Pacers trailed 74-68 with under three minutes to play before Jones took over.
He made a dazzling reverse layup to get things started, then had another layup and drew a foul after a steal by Jamaal Tinsley. Jones missed the free throw, but Tinsley tipped in the rebound to tie the game at 74.
“Once we tied the game, we looked up at the clock, we had two minutes, and we knew it was our game to take,” Jones said.
Jones added four more free throws for a 78-76 lead with 40.9 seconds to play. He then blocked a layup by Jason Hart to preserve the lead.
Tinsley sealed the win on a driving layup with 11 seconds to play.
Emeka Okafor led Charlotte with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough against a Pacers team that has refused to let its roster shortcomings ruin a season that began with so much promise.
Austin Croshere had 23 points and 12 rebounds and Tinsley added 16 points and eight rebounds. Indiana lost another player as Scot Pollard, who started and had four points and four rebounds in the first half, could not come out for the second half because of a sore back.
Somehow, the Pacers (10-3) have rebounded to win three of four games and remain atop the Eastern Conference standings.
But this one didn’t come easy.
The Pacers came out flat against the expansion Bobcats and didn’t showcase the hustle or unselfishness of their two previous victories.
Behind Okafor, the Bobcats outrebounded Indiana 43-37 and scored 21 points off 20 Indiana turnovers while leading for most of the game.
The Bobcats took advantage of poor shooting by the Pacers to build a 17-point lead in the second quarter, but in what has become a pattern, Charlotte let another one get away.
“It’s really frustrating,” Keith Bogans said. “I think we played well all the way up to the fourth quarter. Then we started making mistakes and it wound up costing us the game.”
One night after making 13-of-25 3-pointers to beat the Timberwolves, the Pacers hit just 5-of-22 against the Bobcats.
But none of that mattered in the final 2:30 of the game, as the Pacers jettisoned the long ball for aggressive drives to the basket and brought the raucous home crowd to its feet.
“It seems like we’ve been listening to the same song all year,” said Hart, who had 10 points, six assists and five rebounds. “We just have to learn how to close it out.”
The Pacers took advantage of Charlotte’s inexperience, hanging around for most of three quarters, then finishing the game with a 12-2 run to snatch the win.
Tinsley led the charge in Indiana’s two previous victories over Boston and Minnesota. This time it was Jones, who has been bothered by a pulled thigh muscle for the last four games.
“I didn’t want to play him for 47 minutes, but there was just no way to get him off the floor,” Carlisle said. “Freddie was a guy we just had to have every single minute he was out there. He did everything.”
Jones, who wore one of Jackson’s arm bands as a salute to his suspended teammate, said he didn’t have any trouble finding energy late in the game.
“I had Jack on my arm, J.O. in my heart and Ron in my heart,” he said. “They pushed me.”
Tinsley got a technical foul at 2:54 of the first for pushing Eddie House. … Bobcats G Keith Bogans hit a 35-footer at the first-quarter buzzer. … Carlisle received a technical foul at 7:29 of the second quarter for arguing a foul called on Pollard. … Bobcats C Primoz Brezec got a technical foul at 8:32 of the third.