George warms up to lead Pacers over Nets 96-91

Joe Pantorno, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- For the first 22 minutes of Saturday's game against the Nets, the Pacers were missing small forward Paul George. The NBA's fourth-leading scorer had just five points and Indiana was struggling to pull away from Brooklyn.
George found a way to elevate his game, scoring 16 of his 24 points in the second half as the Pacers (7-0) remained unbeaten with a 96-91 win over the Nets.
"I just have to be comfortable and play within myself," George said. "I just have to be confident. I had to do a better job creating space and looking for my shot and I did."
The 7-0 start is the team's best in franchise history.
"I don't really get too caught up in the historical value," Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said. "We're ahead of the race, trying to get the one seed and put ourselves in a position come playoff time to get the best chance to come out of the East."
In what lived up to be a physical encounter between two gritty sides, the Nets (2-4) continue to struggle to click into gear and meet expectations as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference while the Pacers showed how to play hard-nosed basketball with a disciplined mindset.
Despite controlling the majority of the game, the Pacers almost had a lapse in its sterling record and had to squeak by in the final minute to get the win.
Up 94-91, George turned the ball over when his pass was picked off by power forward Kevin Garnett with 16.5 seconds left. On the ensuing inbound, guard Joe Johnson missed what would be the tying 3-pointer and the Pacers survived.
With the likes of George, center Roy Hibbert and guard Lance Stephenson, it's easy to forget about forward David West. The Nets were leaving him open and the forward was taking advantage, scoring a season-high 18 points.
"We scouted their defense pretty well," West said. "We knew they were going to be overly-aggressive on the ball and we had to make sure we were precise with our movements. I thought we got the shots that we were looking for."
The Pacers led by as much as eight in the fourth quarter after trailing 46-44 at halftime. Indiana, regarded as one of the smartest teams in the NBA were taking advantage of Nets turnovers, but Brooklyn continued to find a way to stay in it until the final buzzer.
Center Brook Lopez, who scored 10 of his 16 in the fourth quarter, pulled the Nets within three with 2:51 left in the game.
"We don't worry about the other team," Hibbert said. "We just have to play defense and they'll have to shoot it over us. I'm happy we stayed strong and got the win."
The Nets, who have found success this season going down low to Lopez, encountered a force to be reckoned with in Hibbert and the NBA's leading defense, but the Nets showed plenty of resilience and found a way to stay in the game.
"The Nets are a very good basketball team, no matter what the record says," Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said. "They're just beginning to gel, it's a long season."
Along with Hibbert, who scored 15 points, the Pacers defense was solid, allowing limited penetration to the basket and forcing the Nets to resort to outside shots on many of their possessions.
"Defense is our staple," Hibbert said. "A team like Brooklyn, who has a lot of closers and lethal weapons at every position, we had to make sure we had to buckle down and not be weak at any spot."
Guards Joe Johnson and Deron Williams led the Nets with 17 points in the loss.
"They're well coached and they talk about team," Nets head coach Jason Kidd said. "Indiana's defense is number one and they're very underrated in transition. They put a lot of pressure on the defense."
NOTES: Indiana brought the best defense in the league to Brooklyn. The Pacers had allowed just 84.3 ppg and 37.8 percent shooting, both lowest in the NBA. ... Pacers G Danny Granger is still missing time with a strained left calf. The original diagnosis said he'd miss only the first two games of the season. ... Nets F Kevin Garnett played Saturday night despite coach Jason Kidd stating Garnett would not play in back-to-back games this season. F Andrei Kirilenko did not play because of back problems. ... Nets F Brook Lopez ranks in the top five of the league in blocks per game (2.60) and field goal percentage (.612). ... Pacers G Paul George ranks fourth in the league averaging 25.3 ppg. C Roy Hibbert leads the NBA in blocks per game with 4.67.

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