INDIANAPOLIS -- Rust, what rust?
Not even a five-day layoff could stop the Indiana Pacers from continuing to play well. The Pacers picked up their seventh win the past eight games when they beat the Phoenix Suns 97-91 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday.
"Defense carried us in this one," Pacers point guard George Hill said. "We knew they were a good offensive team but it came down to getting stops at the end and we did."
Point guard George Hill scored 22 points for the Pacers. Paul George added 15 points despite only being 4 of 12 from the field. Point guard Sebastian Telfair scored 19 points for Phoenix, which has lost four straight games.
The Pacers had to hold off the Suns to avoid officially collapsing.
After falling by behind by two, Pacers power forward David West made a jumper from the top of the key to put them up 87-85 with about 3 minutes left the game. George then made two free throws and West added two free throws and a jumper to give them a 93-88 lead with 57.9 seconds left.
"Give Phoenix a lot of credit for sticking with it after being down in the first half," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "They are a very good offensive team. It wasn't pretty in the second half, but we got the job done. We did just enough."
The Suns got off to a strong start, scoring eight of the first nine points of the game, before the Pacers finally woke up and got it going. The Pacers responded to Phoenix's quick start by tying the game at 14-14 and then building their lead up to as many as eight points.
The Pacers opened the second quarter with a seven-point lead, got it up to 11 less than 4 minutes in. They used an 8-2 run midway through the quarter to turn an eight-point lead into a 16-point cushion, their largest lead of the game.
Or it seemed like a cushion.
Hill led the Pacers with 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting in the first half. Tyler Hansbrough came off the bench to chip in 12 points.
The Suns came out a different team in the third quarter.
Center Marcin Gortat scored eight points and Telfair added seven points to help the Suns outscore the Pacers by 10 points in the third quarter to trim what was a 14-point halftime deficit down to four points heading into the fourth quarter.
The Suns completed their comeback when Telfair picked Hill's pocket and went in for an uncontested layup to tie the score at 81-81 with 6:19 left in the game.
"We fought hard to come back," Suns forward Luis Scola said. "I think we really made a game of it. We as a team need to play all 48 minutes."
Phoenix completed its 8-0 run to take its first lead since the first quarter when Jermaine O'Neal made two free throws to give them an 83-81 lead midway through the final quarter.
"It's becoming a similar theme every night, we start out great and then we get down and we have to fight all the way back," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "That is hard to do, especially against a quality team and especially against these guys. Stat-wise, they are the best defensive team in the league this year."
NOTES: The Suns were without starting point guard Goran Dragic. He suffered a left hip bruise against the New York Knicks on Wednesday. Telfair started at point guard and rookie Kendall Marshall, who has been a disappointment this season, backed him up. ... The Pacers were also shorthanded. Swingman Sam Young missed the game with the flu. Vogel elected to go with a three-man wing rotation of George, Lance Stephenson and Gerald Green instead of the customary four wings. ... Suns center Jermaine O'Neal, who spent eight seasons with the Pacers, said he wants to retire with the Pacers when he retires. O'Neal, 34, said he doesn't know when he'll retire. He's taking it "year to year." ... Friday was the Pacers first game in almost a week. They hadn't played since playing at the New Orleans Hornets on Dec. 22. Their Dec. 26 game against the Chicago Bulls was postponed because of poor weather in Indianapolis. A makeup date has yet to be announced. ... D.J. Augustin is back at the Pacers backup point guard after being demoted for poor play almost three weeks ago. Rookie Ben Hansbrough is now the Pacers third-string point guard. ... The Pacers assigned rookie center Miles Plumlee to Fort Wayne of the Development League, and they recalled guard Orlando Johnson from the same team.