INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — David West and George Hill came to Indiana to make the Pacers title contenders.
Now they have Indiana rolling along toward the playoffs.
West matched his season-high by scoring 31 points, Hill finished with 21 and the two accounted for the last nine points as the Pacers held off a late Chicago charge for a 97-92 victory in Sunday night’s big Central Division showdown.
“He (West) leads our team in will,” coach Frank Vogel said. “He has a great will to do whatever is necessary to get the job done and to get a ‘W’ and that was clear tonight.”
The win gives the Pacers a clear advantage in the division race, too.
They extended their lead over second-place Chicago to four full games and now own the tiebreaker, too, by virtue of sweeping this season’s first three meetings with Chicago. Indiana also has won six of seven since the All-Star break — the only loss coming when Roy Hibbert was suspended by the league for one game. And it closes the season with 10 of its remaining 22 games at home where the Pacers are 21-3 since early December.
That’s not all.
The Pacers improved to 8-5 against the Eastern Conference’s top seeds, a mark that includes the perfect record against the Bulls, a 2-0 record against Miami and a 2-1 record against the New York Knicks. And the Bulls will only get one more crack at Indiana before the playoffs start. That will come March 23 in Chicago.
“It’s a huge win. It’s someone who was the best in our division,” Hill said, referring to the defending Central champs. “They say to be the best, you have to beat the best, and today we took that as a challenge to go out there and play hard.”
The Pacers needed every ounce of effort and more to hold off the hard-charging Bulls.