The New York Knicks weren’t pushovers this time.
Four days removed from knocking off the Knicks by 23 at home, the Indiana Pacers had to rally on the road in the final quarter to extend a season-best winning streak to five games with a 92-86 victory Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Pacers trailed by three entering the fourth quarter but scored 32 points to prevail against a team with the NBA’s worst record (12-49). It’s just the sixth time this season that Indiana has won when behind after three quarters.
It’s also the 11th win in 13 games, the league’s best record since Feb. 1. The Pacers (28-34) moved into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings by percentage points over the Charlotte Hornets (27-33).
The Pacers trailed by nine with 10 minutes remaining. Rookie Damjan Rudez and C.J. Watson drilled 3-pointers. The game was tied before George Hill sank a 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining. Rodney Stuckey made a pair of free throws and hit a running bank shot for a seven-point lead with 23.3 seconds remaining.
“Shots weren’t falling. We had a bunch of rim-outs,” forward David West said of a sluggish first half in an on-court, postgame TV interview with Fox Sports Indiana. “I just thought guys stayed the course. We got stops when we needed to and we got a tough win on the road.”
West had his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He scored eight of his points in the third quarter as the Pacers began their comeback from a 43-38 halftime deficit.
“We just needed to get some baskets and make some plays,” West said. “I thought the defense the last six to eight minutes was where we needed it to be.”
The Pacers hit 10-of-15 shots in the final quarter and clamped down defensively as the Knicks managed just five points in the last 4 1/2 minutes.
“Yeah, proud of our defensive effort,” said head coach Frank Vogel. “And we needed it.”
Vogel has been emphasizing the team’s need to defend with more consistency during this last-season push for a possible playoff spot. Seven of the past eight Pacers opponents have shot below 40 percent, including the Knicks at 39 percent (30-of-78).
“We’re trying to re-establish the defense that really led us the last couple of years,” he said. “We’re taking steps in that direction.”
Stuckey led the Pacers with 17 points off the bench. George Hill scored 15 and Watson 13.
Vogel admitted heads were shaking when the Pacers were 15 games below .500, but players didn’t give up hope that they could turn it around.
“We always had the mind-set that we want to weather the storm and stay close enough, stay within reach and try to get better each month, that if we got fully healthy and the new guys came in and gelled the way we thought they could, that we could go on a run late in the season,” Vogel said. “We’ve begun that, but we still have really a lot of work to do.”
The Pacers play the next four games at home at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, beginning Tuesday against the Orlando Magic (20-43).
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.