INDIANAPOLIS â€” Lance Stephenson charged up the Pacers and fired up the Raptors.
In his first home game since re-signing with Indiana last week, Stephenson helped energize the Pacers in the second half, and they rallied from a 19-point, first-half deficit to blow out Toronto 108-90 on Tuesday night.
He finished with 12 points but also instigated a closing melee by making a layup with 3.3 seconds to go rather than running out the clock.
Paul George scored 18 of his 35 points in the third quarter as Indiana snapped a four-game losing streak, though the win was tainted by an ugly shoving match that spilled into the Pacers’ bench.
Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan took exception to Stephenson’s basket, which seemed to break one of basketball’s cardinal rules. Coaches tried to separate players as the action moved down the court and into the Pacers bench. DeRozan, Stephenson and Toronto guard P.J. Tucker all received technical fouls.
DeRozan led the Raptors with 27 points.
Afterward, Tucker called the play “classless” and “tasteless.” Stephenson apologized.
“I didn’t mean no harm,” Stephenson said. “The crowd was chanting me on and I just wanted to do it for the fans.”
George heeded his coach’s advice. Rather than bask in glittery stats, the four-time All-Star dug down, rallied his teammates and gritted out a victory that may have saved the Pacers’ playoff hopes.
“I haven’t felt that in a long time,” George said after his third-quarter duel with DeRozan. “As much as he was being aggressive and putting his team on his shoulders, I had to do the same.”
George helped Indiana pull off one of its biggest comebacks all season to temporarily move into a tie with Chicago for the No. 7 slot in the East â€” a half-game ahead of Miami, which was idle Tuesday. The Heat return to action Wednesday when the Pacers are off.
Miami and Chicago hold tiebreaker advantages over the Pacers.
The next challenge for Indiana is proving they can keep winning, and with Stephenson back in town, they could.
Indiana trailed by as much as 45-26 in a listless first half that drew boos from the crowd.
But after Indiana took its first lead on Jeff Teague’s 3-pointer with 5:48 left in the third, George cranked it up. He scored 14 of the Pacers’ last 19 points in the quarter, giving Indiana a 77-75 lead. And after Indiana started the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run to make it 88-77, Toronto never challenged again.
“He’s tough, he is one of the best in the league for a reason,” DeRozan said, referring to George. “Once he got going and his shots went in, they all got going.”
Raptors: Trail Boston by 3 1/2 games in the Atlantic Division with four games to go. … Despite Tuesday’s loss, Toronto has won nine of the last 11 regular-season games and three straight season series against Indiana. … Jonas Valanciunas had 10 points and 10 rebounds while DeMarre Carroll had 11 points and Cory Joseph scored 10.
Pacers: Teague finished with 20 points and six assists. Thaddeus Young scored 15 points, his fifth straight game in double figures. … Pacers coach Nate McMillan said Al Jefferson (sprained left ankle) was off crutches and out of the boot and is doing light jogging. Glenn Robinson III (sore left calf) still has not returned to practice.
Stephenson started hearing the applause as he went to the scorer’s table late in the first quarter. When he finally entered, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
“I almost teared up,” Stephenson said. “But my main focus was to try and win the game. I’m just happy we won the game.”
Indiana’s stretch offence finally got in sync for the final two quarters Tuesday when the Pacers went 9 of 13 from beyond the arc. Surprised?
Not the Pacers. Or the Raptors.
“We came out with a 17-point lead and then it melted in the third quarter as far as our defence was concerned,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “Guarding the 3-point line was our biggest problems.”
Raptors: Can clinch a fourth straight season with a winning road record at Detroit on Wednesday.
Pacers: Will try to win back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 6 when they host Milwaukee on Thursday.
Michael Marot, The Associated Press