George, Pacers beat struggling Cavaliers

The Sports Xchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers' New Year's Eve battle was a near carbon copy of their early November game -- a defensive showcase.

Forward Paul George contributed a game-high 21 points and corralled eight rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 91-76 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday in front of a sold-out crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"A really good win for our guys," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Tonight's game was a perfect example of how you win a game when your shots are not falling."

The Pacers shot 44.2 percent (34-for-77), an improvement on their 40.5 percent at halftime.

The Cavaliers dropped their sixth straight game.

The back-and-forth battle remained tight as neither team strung together runs to put the other away, until midway through the fourth when the Pacers went on a 19-6 run to take a 87-74 lead.

"They are doing what championship-level teams do," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "The sense of urgency defensively that was there especially in the fourth quarter for them, you have to give them credit for turning it up a couple notches and taking us out of whatever we were trying to execute."

The Pacers took the lead 71-68 when guard C.J. Watson found George cutting to the basket for the layup, and plus-one after guard Dion Waiters committed the foul.

Center Roy Hibbert added 19 points and five blocked shots. Forward/guard Danny Grangers came off the bench to match his season-high in points with 12.

"He has come along -- I was like 'man, this is Granger of old,'" Hibbert said of his teammate." He is not going to get it right away. It is going to take time, probably 20 games and he will be back into a rhythm and conditioning."

Granger hit 3 of 7 from the field and a perfect 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.

Inside play has been key for the Pacers this season both offensively and defensively. When Hibbert blocks at least five shots, the Pacers are 8-0. On the offensive side, when the Pacers score 40 or more in the paint -- as they did Tuesday (42-26) -- they are 11-1.

"We played our game -- we played defense -- it was fun," Hibbert said. "Try to give them nothing easy. You guard the three and make them shoot contested long two's or contested three's -- nothing in the paint."

Center Anderson Varejao led the Cavaliers with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Waiters came off the bench to add 12.

The combination of guards George Hill, Lance Stephenson and Watson kept Cavaliers leading scorer Kyrie Irving to his second-lowest scoring total of the year with 10 points. The third-year guard averages 22.6 points.

Vogel had high praise for Hill on his defensive performance.

"I though George Hill's performance was as special as we've seen all year with his defense on Kyrie Irving," Vogel said. "He's a gifted defender. It seems like every night he's playing against a superstar point guard."

Point guard Jarrett Jack hit Cleveland's final field goal on a jumper with 7:31 remaining in the fourth to pull within three at 75-72.

The Pacers held Cleveland to 36.3 percent from the field. It was the 14th time Indiana had held its opponent to below 40 percent this year and the Pacers improved to 11-0 in those games.

"We were playing great defense and protecting the rim," Stephenson said about the fourth quarter. "Everybody was in their gaps and G. Hill did a great job on Kyrie Irving tonight."

Irving's troubles were not just with the Pacers defenders. With 4:01 left in the third quarter, the Pacers called a timeout. Irving struggled to walk back to the Cleveland bench and went to the floor at midcourt holding his left knee and was assisted to the locker room by teammates and trainers. He did return to the floor in the fourth.

"I thought the worst happened," Irving said. "I continued to play but felt a pop in my knee and I was falling down all over the place. When I went back out it still didn't feel right."

The Pacers' 25-5 record is their best after 30 games in franchise history. The Pacers improved to a NBA-best 15-1 at home, while Cleveland dropped to 2-14 on the road, an NBA-worst.

"We've been talking about that, and not taking games for granted," Hill said of playing the 10-21 Cavaliers. "Our thing was to come in and finish 2013 with a bang."

NOTES: The Cavaliers entered Tuesday's game having lost seven of their last eight games, including five straight. ... The Cavs began Tuesday leading the Eastern Conference (fourth best in the NBA) in bench scoring averaging 39.9 points. ... Pacers assigned rookie F Solomon Hill to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Developmental League on Sunday. Hill was Indiana's first-round draft pick in 2013. ... Indiana entered the day having won seven straight and 13 of the last 14 games over the Cavaliers, including an 89-74 victory on Nov. 2. ... Pacers G Lance Stephenson began Tuesday leading the NBA in triple-double performances this season with three.