NEW ORLEANS -- They are only two games into their season, but the Indiana Pacers illustrated the kind of veteran toughness that ultimately wins championships in a 95-90 comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.
Trailing by as many as 16 points in the second half -- and down 85-81 with 1:58 left -- the Pacers (2-0) made every key stop and made every play down the stretch to outscore the Pelicans 14-5 in the final 1:36. It was a stout performance on the second night of a back-to-back.
"I'm real proud of our guys," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "It was a big-time, grind-it-out, mental toughness win. Things weren't going our way, but we stuck with it and had a big fourth quarter and were able to find a way."
Paul George scored a game-high 32 points and David West, who struggled offensively much of the game, hit four free throws in the final 66 seconds. George Hill, who finished with 19 points, hit a 26-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key with 31.1 seconds left to stretch the Indiana lead to 89-85, making it a two-possession game.
"We knew we had to keep chipping away," George said. "(The Pelicans are) a good team. I think they're going to be in the playoffs. We did it all on the defensive end. We relied on one another and we helped one another. We never give up, no matter what the circumstance is or the score."
The Pacers (2-0) trailed 85-81 when Jrue Holiday, whom the Pelicans acquired in a draft day trade, canned a 15-footer with 1:58 left. But center Roy Hibbert made a strong inside move for a layup against Jason Smith -- drawing Smith's sixth foul -- and then converted the free throw to cut the New Orleans lead to 85-84.
After Holiday missed a quick jumper on the other end, Indiana took its first lead since early in the first quarter on Hill's incredibly long-range jumper.
"That was a monster 3," Vogel said.
The Pelicans led 50-36 at halftime, getting a combined 27 points from their starting backcourt of Holiday and Eric Gordon. But after Smith hit a layup open the second half and put New Orleans up by 16, the Pelicans missed their next 12 shots and shot just 24 percent overall (6-of-25) in a 16-point third quarter.
That simply allowed the Pacers to stay within striking distance, and they took full advantage by torching the Pelicans 36-24 in the fourth quarter.
"We were able to grind out wins like this last year, and we never felt we were out of the game," said West, who finished with 12 points on just 3-of-11 shooting. "It was time to make a play and time to finish those possessions with free throws. We were just a little more scrappy and got a few more hands on the ball than we did earlier."
Eric Gordon led the Pelicans with 25 points, Holiday had 24 and second-year forward Anthony Davis continued to show his refined game with 20 points and 12 rebounds. But the Pelicans seemed to lose their offensive poise in the final quarter.
"(The Pacers) took the game," coach Monty Williams said. "I just didn't think we had an understanding of the moment in the fourth quarter. Some of our possessions were just vanilla possessions where we just jacked up a couple of shots. We were having a great defensive game and then we gave up 36 in the fourth. That's the game."
Three of Davis' four first-half field goals were jumpers from at least 20 feet, which complemented his inside presence.
"I've gotten better -- that's it," Davis said. "I've been working all summer to get better, and that's what happens when you work. You become a better player."
NOTES: Pelicans F Ryan Anderson, a 3-point threat, will be out one to three weeks with a chip fracture in his right second toe. The injury occurred in practice Monday and was revealed before Wednesday night's opener. "We just have to figure it out," coach Monty Williams said. "Others will play a bigger role, and we'll need someone to step up." ... Jason Smith started at center for New Orleans because Williams likes his energy and shooting. Greg Stiemsma came off the bench. ... Pacers coach Frank Vogel likes the Pelicans' new-look roster and deep stable of guards. "They've got some horses in there when you're talking about Holiday and Tyreke Evans and Gordon being back, and Anthony Davis having a season under his belt," Vogel said. "So it's an improved basketball team for sure. I think they're really going to be competing for a playoff spot, maybe even a playoff run." ... Vogel said Hibbert (7-foot-2, 290 pounds) gained muscle in the offseason that will help him handle other bigs.