Pacers beat T-Wolves 122-111 to end 8-game skid

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Pacers coach Jim O’Brien gambled by benching his starting point guard, and it paid off.

O’Brien said before the game that T.J. Ford(notes) would not play and his minutes would be distributed between Earl Watson(notes) and A.J. Price(notes). The Pacers responded with a season high in points and a season low in turnovers.

Roy Hibbert(notes) and Luther Head(notes) each scored 21 points, and Indiana beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 122-111 on Saturday night to snap an eight-game losing streak.

Ford had started 25 of Indiana’s first 31 games, but he sat on the bench in uniform and watched Watson and Price combine for 20 points, 15 assists and two turnovers.

Brandon Rush(notes) scored 16 points and Mike Dunleavy added 15 points and eight rebounds for the Pacers.

Pacers forward Dahntay Jones(notes), who criticized the effort of some players after Wednesday’s loss to Memphis and said chemistry was a problem, had a different take on Saturday.

“Tonight, we had great point guard play by Earl Watson,” Jones said. “He got everybody the ball at the right times. Roy did a good job in the post. A.J. came off the bench and did a great job. Luther was steady at the shooting guard. Mike chipped in. It was a good team effort and a good chance to see everybody contribute and play hard.”

Hibbert said it was good to finally get a victory.

“We haven’t had this feeling in a long time,” he said. “It’s nice to get this win, but we need to build off this game.”

The Pacers, one of the league’s worst teams in giveaways, committed only nine turnovers. Head said the team’s flow was a key.

“We’ve got good point guards,” he said. “We’ve just got to play off of them. When we do that, we’re a tough team. You know they’re going to push the ball, and they’re going to get everybody shots.”

Al Jefferson(notes) scored 23 points, Wayne Ellington(notes) had a career-high 16 and Kevin Love(notes) also scored 16 for the Timberwolves, who have lost four straight.

Minnesota outscored Indiana 66-49 in the second half after a speech from coach Kurt Rambis, but the Timberwolves couldn’t overcome their sluggish start.

“Coach came in here and reamed us, but he shouldn’t have to do that for us to want to play,” Love said. “For a lot of us, including myself, we were just dragging. We didn’t come out and play hard, and there’s no excuse for that.”

Indiana led by 29 points in the first half and by 13 at the end of the third quarter before barely holding on.

The Timberwolves cut Indiana’s lead to 115-111 on Love’s three-point play with 53 seconds to remaining. On Indiana’s next possession, Hibbert found a cutting Watson, who converted an acrobatic reverse layup and was fouled by Ryan Gomes(notes) on the play. Watson made the free throw to extend Indiana’s lead to 118-111 with 33 seconds to play.

“I felt the contact, but I knew I had the chance to finish because he didn’t wrap me up, so I was trying to get the and-one,” Watson said.

Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 center, has become a focus of the offense while forward Danny Granger(notes) recovers from a heel injury. Hibbert is averaging 21 points in his past three games.

“We attacked the basket first,” Hibbert said. “We went inside-out. I tried to set the tone early in the paint and then I passed it off for open shots. I think all around, we just meshed really well tonight.”

Indiana led 32-26 at the end of the first quarter then went on a 17-2 run over the first three minutes of the second to take control, making six of their first seven shots in the period.

The Pacers tied their season high for points in a half on a 3-pointer by Rush that put them up 69-40 with 1:51 left in the second quarter. Indiana shot 61 percent in the period and led 73-45 at halftime. It was a significant change for the Pacers, who had developed a habit of building large early deficits.

“My viewpoint was it was the tempo and the ball movement that got us the lead,” O’Brien said. “Seventy-three points is a great tempo.”

Minnesota scored 40 points in the third quarter to cut Indiana’s lead to 98-85 heading into the fourth.

“It just proved that if we had started the game the way we finished it, we would have won easily,” Jefferson said. “None of that matters. We still lost.”

NOTES: McRoberts made only the second 3-pointer of his career in the first quarter. … Minnesota F Damien Wilkins(notes) was assessed a technical foul for shoving Solomon Jones(notes) in the third quarter. … The Pacers improved to 5-10 without Granger.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Minnesota
A. Jefferson Al Jefferson
10-20,  23 Pts
6 Rebs, 2 Assists
 Indiana
R. Hibbert Roy Hibbert
10-18,  21 Pts
7 Rebs, 4 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
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Scoreboard

Saturday, Jan 2