The Pacers got a boost from having point guard George Hill back in the starting lineup, they shot a season-high 59.7 percent and scored their highest point total of the season, they hit a dozen 3-pointers and even came up with a couple of late steals in a tight game that came down to the final possessions.
They were also rested, having not played since Saturday night, whereas the visiting Pistons won at home Tuesday against Miami.
And the Pacers also had some old-school swag in their Flo-Jo retro uniforms from the 1990 glory days, when Reggie Miller and teammates typically finished off opponents in the final minutes.
It took all of that, then Hill scoring six of his team’s last eight points in the end, for the Pacers to earn a 114-109 victory over the Pistons at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“Before the game, coach (Frank Vogel) really challenged us to play for each other,” said Hill, who came off the bench the previous five games after missing 11 with a groin strain. “Have the mentality when you get the ball to create for your teammate and our teammates need to reward us for looking for them and have confidence in shot-making.
“I think every guy did that tonight.”
Hill was the glue that brought them together from the opening basket, his layup off a give-and-go with center Roy Hibbert. Hill tied a season best with 20 points and his six assists were the most for him in 11 games this season.
“George Hill makes a difference, but it wasn’t just him,” Vogel said.
The Pacers had 28 assists because when Hill and others broke down the Pistons’ defense, that left shooters open. Those shooters have been missing most of their shots in recent games, as Indiana entered with eight losses in their last 10.
But this night was different.
Indiana hit 12-of-21 3-point shots with C.J. Miles and C.J. Watson making four each. Miles hit his two most important 3-pointers late, a 24-footer to give the Pacers a 99-96 lead with 4:51 remaining and a 27-footer for a 102-98 advantage with 4:11 on the clock.
The Pistons (19-31) kept hanging around. They seemed equally determined, a visiting squad which lost starting point guard Brandon Jennings to a season-ending Achilles tendon tear on Jan. 24.
So many times before, the Pacers (18-32) have lost close games like this. Not this time.
After Miles’ heroics, Hill dropped in a layup. Then Hibbert tipped a ball free for a turnover that David West converted into a break-away dunk. The relentless Pistons closed to 106-103 with their last 3-pointer, but Hill buried an 11-foot turnaround jumper with 1:54 remaining.
Twice more the Pistons closed the deficit to three, but Hill hit another jumper off a West pass and then sank one of two foul shots with 19.8 seconds remaining. Miles then came up with a key defensive play as he stole a pass and was fouled. His two foul shots iced it with 13.6 seconds remaining.
“We did a great job closing out,” Vogel said, “(and) made a couple key defensive stops.”
Hibbert scored 16 and had 12 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season. Miles scored 15, West 14 and Watson had 14 off the bench.
“Fresh team, George Hill back, three days off before the game, fresh legs and they made a lot of shots,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said of the Pacers.
If the Pacers are going to have any chance of competing for a playoff spot, they’re going to need more of this in the next two months. And the next home test will be more of a challenge than this one, when the Cleveland Cavaliers (30-20) and LeBron James visit Friday. The Cavs have won 11 in a row.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” said reserve Luis Scola, who had nine points and three assists. “Right now, we have to focus on ourselves and find a way to keep the energy we had today, the movement we had today.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.