The Indiana Pacers know they can count on third point guard Donald Sloan, who started at the beginning of the season and returned to that role for a 94-91 road victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Sloan had 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists to keep his undermanned team together on a night when Hill sat out with a groin injury and Watson was sidelined by a sore left foot. Sloan hit a 3-pointer to give the Pacers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish early in the fourth quarter.
C.J. Miles scored a game-high 22 points off the bench, his fifth 20-point game of the season and eight time he’s led the team in scoring. Miles hit 6-of-9 3-pointers in his second consecutive game-high effort. He scored 25 points in Thursday’s 106-95 home win over Miami.
“We’re just playing hard, man,” Miles said in a postgame interview televised on Fox Sports Midwest. “Every win is important. We know we can dig out of this hole.”
The Pacers (13-21) rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit by locking down the Bucks (17-17) to just 38 second-half points. The Bucks went nearly seven minutes without a field goal in the final quarter. It’s the Pacers’ fifth win in seven games.
Forward Solomon Hill put the game away on two foul shots with 5.3 seconds remaining.
Sloan had not played the previous three games, but made his 20th start of the season.
“Great job,” coach Frank Vogel said of Sloan. “All year, when his number has been called and he’s been asked to do more than he’s used to doing, this one sprung sprung on him this morning, didn’t know until this morning that he was even going to play and all of a sudden he’s starting and playing 33 minutes. He stepped up and made a lot of plays, setting people up, rebounding and defending and making shots.”
The Pacers have had 132 games missed due to injuries this season. Hill had missed the first 28 games with a left leg contusion and Watson the initial 16 games with a sprained right foot.
“Yeah, combinations are crazy this year,” Vogel said. “But I said to the guys before the game, the ‘next man up’ wins are more fun than the regular wins.”
The Pacers outscored the Bucks 20-15 in the third quarter and 28-23 in the final quarter.
“We just wanted to play aggressive in every way,” Vogel said. “We kind of got after these guys at halftime to be more aggressive.”
That boost in intensity translated to more free-throw opportunities, which has been a continual problem this season. The Pacers sank 16-of-20 at the line while the Bucks made eight-of-10.
The Pacers continue a four-game road trip Sunday at the Los Angeles Lakers (10-22). They defeated the Lakers 110-91 at home on Dec. 15.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.