NBA: George powers Pacers past Celtics

Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (right) backing down against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart in Indianapolis on March 15, 2016.
Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (right) backing down against Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart in Indianapolis on March 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS/USA TODAY SPORTS

(REUTERS) - As is usually the case when the Indiana Pacers win, Paul George provided plenty of offence.

But after their 103-98 victory on Tuesday night against the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association league, George and the Pacers wanted to talk defence.

"Teams that stretch the floor have given us problems, so we had to guard to win this game," said George, who led all scorers with 25 points. "Our message tonight was, "Guard our guy."

Two George Hill free throws with 7:43 to play began a 6-0 Pacers run and the Celtics (39-28) never led again. It was only the fourth time in the past 30 games that Boston were held below 100 points.

Indiana (36-31) won the four-game season series with Boston 3-1.

Monta Ellis added 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Pacers. Jordan Hill came off the bench for 15 points and Ian Mahinmi finished with 13 points and six rebounds.

The Pacers shot 46.4 per cent from the field (39 of 84) and held Boston to 38.3 per cent (36 of 94), including 8 of 32 from three-point range.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 21 points, Jonas Jerebko had 17 and Jared Sullinger added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Marcus Smart scored 12 points.

"We have been more aggressive lately pressuring the ball," Mahinmi said when asked what fuelled this defensive effort. "That helped us slow the game down."

Indiana coach Frank Vogel enjoyed the effort. "It wasn't pretty, but Boston is a tenacious defensive team," he said.

"I have a lot of respect for Brad Stevens' team. Offensively, we were able to build a lead, and Jordan Hill really benefited from some great reads by Monta Ellis. Jordan is a great finisher around the rim."

Jordan Hill, like his coach, respects the Celtics and categorised this as a big victory. "Boston is a great team that plays really good team ball," Jordan Hill said. "Down the stretch, we made some big shots and helped each other out on defence."

The Celtics took a 52-51 lead on Thomas' three-pointer with 7:12 left in the third quarter. Thomas scored 16 points in the quarter, but an Ellis runner in the lane with 0.5 of a second left in the third gave Indiana a 71-70 advantage with 12 minutes remaining.

"We had those moments - that stretch in the first half when we couldn't score and got down 10 - but then we started playing great through the end of the third quarter," Stevens said.

"We still were playing pretty well, but Monta Ellis gave them that shot to kind of tweak the momentum of the game, and then Indiana just dominated us in the paint after that.

"What I am discouraged about is that I think we can play with better purpose and give ourselves a better chance to win. And obviously, Jordan Hill loves playing against the Celtics. He has a great game against us every time."

The Celtics' Smart said the outcome can be described simply. "We got a lot of good shots and had a lot of opportunities, but obviously, our shots were not falling," he said.

"No one was cutting hard, and that allowed them to be right on top of us when we got the ball. We fell apart."

Led by Mahinmi's nine points, the Pacers grabbed a 43-39 half-time lead, outscoring the Celtics 23-19 during the second quarter.

Boston, who got 11 from Jerebko and nine from Smart, shot only 34.8 per cent from the field (16 of 46) in the first half but out-rebounded Indiana 26-24.

The Pacers trailed 20-13 in the first quarter but led 43-33 in the second quarter before the Celtics scored the final six points to pull to within four at intermission.