By TYLER SMITH (@TylerSmith_ISL)
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been a crazy few weeks for the Indiana Pacers.
A six-game losing streak.
The All-Star break.
The Trade-Deadline filled with rumors and speculation.
All three are now history, and the Pacers can simply focus on the final stretch of the season. They started the final stretch with a bang, defeating the Memphis Grizzlies 102-92 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Before the game even began, the Pacer crowd gave Paul George a louder than usual ovation during introductions.
“I had an emotional moment, to be honest,” George said. “Even running out of the tunnel. I felt that. That’s why I love being here.”
George had an off-night with just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting, and also left the game in the 4th-quarter with leg cramps. He expects to be ready to go Saturday night in Miami. And his teammates picked him up for a big win.
Six players scored in double-figures, led by C.J. Miles with 17 points. Monta Ellis continued to play well off the bench with 16 points. Jeff Teague (10 points, 10 assists) and Lavoy Allen (10 points, 10 rebounds) both recorded double-doubles. It was Jeff Teague’s 14th double-double of the season. His career-high is 15 in a season, set back in 2012-2013.
Thaddeus Young returned to action after missing the last eight games.
“Thad is the glue for us,” said Head Coach Nate McMillan. “He’s always in the right place. He just does a little bit of everything.”
The Pacers went 2-6 in his absence and are 28-22 when he plays. “It felt great,” Young said. “I just tried to bring a lot of energy, come to the game with a positive mindset and just try to figure out how to get a win. We’d lost six straight so hopefully I can be that energy guy to help pick us up a little bit.”
His return wasn’t the only boost for the Pacers. With Al Jefferson sidelined (dental pain), Rakeem Christmas was given some minutes. He responded with an energetic four points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.
Paul George on his leg, tonight's win, and Rakeem Christmas. pic.twitter.com/GT5O7AF6Dn
— Tyler Smith (@TylerSmith_ISL) February 25, 2017
The entire second-unit played well in the second quarter, helping the Pacers outscore the Grizzlies 35-24 leading into halftime. “Those guys played with good rhythm,” McMillan said. “Rakeem came in and gave us some energy.”
The Pacers (30-28) needed the break, but are happy to be playing again.
“We certainly needed a win,” said McMillan. “It was a long break. We had a bitter taste after losing six games. I thought it was really important that we found a way to win tonight.”
There’s no time to celebrate, however. The Pacers play in Miami on Saturday night to start a tough five-game road trip.
“We have a tough schedule the rest of the way,” Paul George said. “Hopefully we’ll get it together and these games will help prepare us for the playoffs.”
With the win, the Pacers clinched a winning season at home for the 28th straight season. That’s the longest active streak in the NBA. The all-time record is 34 straight seasons, set by the Phoenix Suns.