By CLIFF BRUNT
ISL Co-Editor/The Sports XChange
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers followed their most disappointing loss with their most complete win.
Forward Paul George had 24 points and nine rebounds to help the Pacers snap a two-game losing streak with a 114-81 victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
Guard Lance Stephenson had 16 points, six rebounds and six assists and forward Luis Scola added 13 points and six rebounds for the Pacers, who took out their frustration from Wednesday night’s loss at Miami by outscoring the Rockets 31-20 in the third quarter to take control of the game. It was Indiana’s largest victory margin of the season.
“I think this is one of the better games that we can say that we played a 48-minute ballgame,” George said. “It’s a good feeling because when we’re at our best, we feel like we’re unstoppable. It was good to come out and play with high energy against a high-energy team.”
Pacers forward Danny Granger played for the first time this season after missing the first 25 games with a strained left calf. He finished with five points, two rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes.
“It felt good just to be back out playing again,” he said. “I knew it was going to take a long time to get in a groove. I was happy I made one shot, honestly. I had some turnovers, a little rusty, but it felt good to be playing.”
The Pacers had failed to score 100 points in their previous five games, but they shot 53 percent from the field and reached a season-high point total to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
“We always say good teams bounce back,” Pacers guard George Hill said. “That showed we’re a good team, and we played a great basketball team in Houston. We played great defensively and held a team that can score the ball with the best of them to not a lot of points.”
Houston center Dwight Howard had 19 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks and forward Chandler Parsons added 14 points for the Rockets, who had won four of six.
Houston guard James Harden, who entered the game as the league’s No. 6 scorer, was held to 12 points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field. He also had five turnovers in one of his worst performances of the season.
“Paul (George) did a great job of guarding him and making things tough for him,” Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. “Everybody was in their gaps on the perimeter and I tried to protect at the basket as much as I could.”
Houston, which entered the game ranked second in the league in scoring with 107.1 points per game, shot 38 percent from the field and was held to a season-low point total.
“We had no answers for them,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “They just played way better than we did. They played more aggressively, they moved the ball well and we didn’t. They got down, spread us out, got threes, we didn’t. They were just a lot better than us tonight, all the way around.”
Indiana led by 11 at halftime and began extending its lead in the third quarter. George hit a 3-pointer to boost the Pacers’ lead to 67-51 with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. Stephenson followed with a 3-pointer to push the margin to 19. A reverse, behind-the-head jam by George gave the Pacers an 81-55 lead, and Indiana coasted from there.
Indiana led 87-65 at the end of the third quarter after shooting 59 percent from the field in the period.
Granger hit a 3-pointer with 9:48 left in the game, drawing chants of “Danny! Danny!” from the sellout crowd. His triple put Indiana ahead 92-67. The Pacers reached 100 points on a putback by reserve center Ian Mahinmi.
The Pacers led by 12 in the second quarter, but the Rockets cut their deficit to three before Indiana bounced back and went ahead 56-45 at the break.
The Pacers shot 46 percent from the field in the first half.
Howard had 13 points and 10 rebounds before the break to keep the Rockets in it. Harden had just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting from the floor in the first half.
George scored 12 points but also was just 2 of 8 from the field before the break. He bounced back with another of his strong third quarters, and the game was over.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our effort and execution, particularly on the defensive end,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re really happy with how we played. We talked about playing mad for four quarters.”
NOTES: Rockets G Jeremy Lin missed his third consecutive game with back spasms. … Rockets C Omer Asik missed the game with a right thigh contusion. … Pacers F Danny Granger entered the game with 4:05 left in the first quarter. His first significant contribution was a stuff of Rockets C Dwight Howard from behind. His first points came at the free-throw line with 9:54 left in the 2nd quarter … Indiana started the season 11-0 at home before losing to Detroit on Monday night. That left Oklahoma City as the league’s only unbeaten home team.