By Jon R. LaFollette (@JonFilet)
It was Swat City Central in Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday as the Pacers kick started the season with a 97-87 home-opening win over the Orlando Magic.
The team posted 18 blocks, one shy of tying a franchise record, and was led by center Roy Hibbert who had seven in addition to eight points and 16 rebounds.
Hibbert made Pacers fans nervous when he fell to the court without contact late in the fourth quarter and began grimacing while holding his left knee.
Hibbert walked off the court under his own power and did not return to the game.
“I need to get on to the ball boys,” he said with a smile in a post game interview. “They need to do a better job wiping the court.”
Though a deeper and more experienced team, the Pacers struggled early against a young Orlando squad privy to running and gunning. After getting out to a 12-0 lead early in the first quarter, turnovers, poor offensive execution and an 18-point burst from Orlando forward Andrew Nicholson had the Pacers facing a 44-40 deficit at halftime.
But Indiana rediscovered their defensive identify in the second half and limited Orlando to 36 percent shooting.
The Pacers also slowed the tempo by getting to the foul line often; attempting 25 free throws to Orlando’s seven after halftime – a testament to the team’s height advantage.
Paul George, who recently signed a 5-year contract extension, led the team in scoring with 24 points while shooting a suburb 50 percent from the field – including 3-of-6 from long range.
Other contributors came from the revamped second unit which was among the worst in the league a season ago. Second-year guard Orlando Johnson scored nine points while backup forward Luis Scola added eight.
The victory spoiled the debut for Orlando rookie and former IU standout Victor Oladipo – who scored 12 points 3 rebounds and 2 assists in 23 minutes off the bench.
The Pacers were without Danny Granger, who is out three weeks with a calf injury.
Tuesday’s game marked just he fifth time in 21 years the team has opened the season at home.