INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Pacers are still trying to figure out how to make up for Danny Granger’s absence.
In the meantime, they’re content to rely on their suddenly staunch defense.
George Hill scored the first four points of the second overtime Saturday night and his teammates took care of the rest, allowing only three baskets over the final 10:45 to lead the Pacers past Sacramento 106-98 in double overtime.
“Not the prettiest game in the world, but we got the W,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Like early last season, our defense is carrying us.”
The drastic turnabout may be the biggest surprise in Indy early this season.
After allowing more than 100 points per game two years ago and nearly 95 per game last season, the Pacers went into their home opener as one of only 12 teams holding opponents under 90. Sacramento (0-3) barely topped that mark in regulation and still couldn’t get to 100 points despite playing 10 extra minutes.
Sure, the explanation could be fatigue after playing their third straight road game and their second game in two nights.
But the Pacers were just as determined to redeem themselves after Friday night’s embarrassing loss at Charlotte and in front of a sold out crowd clad mostly in gold T-shirts for Indiana’s biggest home opener in nearly a decade.
They gave the hometown fans a glimpse of the way basketball has traditionally been played in Indiana — gritty, selfless and with a relentless defensive mentality.
“This was a very tough, gut-it-out game,” Pacers forward David West said. “These are the types of games you have to win in the NBA if you want to be successful.”
If the Pacers (2-1) demonstrated anything Saturday, it was how they could continue to win without their injured scoring leader.
Hill finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists. West had 18 points and 18 rebounds. Paul George added 16 points and a career-high 17 rebounds, while Gerald Green had 17 points and All-Star center Roy Hibbert finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
Defensively, they were in sync on play after play.
With the game tied late in regulation and early in the first overtime, Indiana missed seven consecutive shots. Yet the Pacers never allowed the Kings to take the lead.
And from the moment Indiana tied the score at 36 with 5:25 left in the first half, the Kings never retook the lead.
“It’s tough,” backup guard Aaron Brooks said. “To go into double overtime and not get 100, I think that’s something that kind of baffles us. We’re such a good offensive team.”
Not on this night.
While DeMarcus Cousins delivered his usual double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds), and Marcus Thornton almost single-handedly rallied the Kings with 26 points and four 3-pointers, the Kings shot just 36.3 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from 3-point range. In the extra 10 minutes, they were even worse — just 3 of 19 from the field overall.
“I thought they competed at a really high level and we just didn’t pull it out,” Sacramento coach Keith Smart said.
The problem wasn’t lack of effort.
Sacramento cut Indiana’s 14-point halftime lead to eight after the third quarter and to one when Chuck Hayes hit an 11-foot jumper with 1:07 left in regulation.
West made it 91-88 with an 11-footer, and Thornton finally tied the score at 91 with 48.6 seconds to go.
Indiana had four chances to take the late lead in those final seconds, missing all four shots. Thornton, too, had a chance to give Sacramento the lead on a fast break, but George cut in front of him and caused an errant shot.
So the game went to overtime.
Lance Stephenson’s 3 and Hibbert’s 6-footer gave Indiana a 96-93 lead with 41.2 seconds left, but Thornton tied it again with a 3 and Hill and Hibbert couldn’t get their potentially winning shots to go before the buzzer sounded, forcing another overtime.
“It’s going to come,” Vogel said of the Pacers offense. “We’re working some new faces in there. Gerald and Lance haven’t been in our rotations and George Hill is coming along.”
He certainly demonstrated that two minutes into the second overtime when he broke the tie with a 6-foot runner and then was awarded a layup when Cousins was called for goaltending. That made it 100-96 with 1:44 left, all the Pacers had to do was close it out with defense.
“I wasn’t making shots, my teammates were not making shots,” West said. “But we were able to keep pushing and get the win in a very nasty game.”
NOTES: It was Indiana’s first double overtime game since Dec. 19, 2008. …. Granger missed his third straight game with a sore left knee. … The Kings have now been the opponent for three home openers — all on the road. … Saturday’s game marked a homecoming of sorts for Kings coach Keith Smart, who became famous for making the winning shot in Indiana’s 1987 national championship game victory. … WNBA Finals MVP Tamika Catchings attended the Pacers home opener.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)