Indiana Pacers fans had not seen their team play like this at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Not this season, seemingly one injury after another, without a signature home triumph to show for their struggles.
That is until Friday night, when the Pacers rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Cleveland 103-99 and snap the Cavaliers’ 12-game winning streak.
Only once before had the Pacers (19-32) beaten a winning team at home, that being New Orleans on Dec. 23. And Indiana had just three other victories on the road against teams with winning records.
That’s what made this such an impressive accomplishment, getting the best of longtime nemesis LeBron James and the Cavaliers (31-21) with such a strong finish.
One improbable basket changed everything.
George Hill drew contact coming around a Roy Hibbert screen and threw up a one-handed, 3-point prayer while being fouled — and the shot hit nothing but net with 1:26 remaining. He sank the free throw for a four-point play to give the Pacers a 95-92 lead.
It was the kind of circus shot that prompted upbeat Pacers head coach Frank Vogel to crack a joke in his postgame interview televised by Fox Sports Indiana.
“I’ve been having him work on that before practice, just in case he ever has a guy draped on his left arm and he just chucked it up with his right, and he usually gets a call if you get that, and if you make it, it’s a four-point play,” Vogel said with a smile. “So I thought it was genius preparation on my part to put him in that situation.”
After the deficit was trimmed to four, the Pacers closed it out at the line. In the final 23.9 seconds, Hill sank five foul shots and Miles added another. Hill started those trips to the line with a steal of a James pass to Kyrie Irving.
The Pacers were ahead 101-99 when Hill hit his final two free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining to close it out.
Indiana outscored the Cavaliers 36-29 in the fourth quarter. Miles finished with a team-high 26 points. He hit 8-of-16 shots including four 3-pointers. At one juncture, he had missed six consecutive shots, but he was clutch down the stretch with 16 fourth-quarter points including three 3-pointers.
“Just staying confident was the biggest thing,” Miles said of his turnaround. “Them being the hottest team and having played there before … playing tonight was fun for me to be able to win that game.
“And just the biggest thing, though, besides that is the confidence builder for us, what we’re trying to do, getting even more healthy, having George (Hill) back out there and getting his legs back under him and trying to figure out the rotation. … It’s working and everybody is playing well in that rotation and we’re trying to keep building.”
Hill, starting just his fifth game of the season due to knee and quad injuries, had 20 points and a game-high seven assists. David West also scored 20 points and grabbed a game- and season-high 13 rebounds.
“We wanted to try to get a win in our building against a quality opponent,” West said.
That was enough to overcome Irving’s game-high 29 and James’ 25. J.R. Smith hit a pair of 3-pointers late to finish with 17. The Cavaliers had led by as much as 13 in the first half.
“It just shows we’re coming together now,” said Solomon Hill, who scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter. “Hopefully it just gives us a spark. Everybody should believe that we can beat any team on any given night.”
The Pacers will try for their first three-game winning streak of the season Sunday with a road game at the Charlotte Hornets (22-27). Indiana is three games out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“We need some quality wins if we’re going to get back in this playoff race,” Vogel said. “We can’t just beat the teams that you should beat at home. You’re going to have to get some quality road wins and you’re going to have to beat some elite teams at home.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.