Effort and defense leads to Pacers win over Clippers

Myles Turner recorded his third double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Myles Turner recorded his third double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Glenn Robinson III was at the basket finishing with a flush after a Jeff Teague steal 10 seconds into the game. Later, there was big man Al Jefferson diving from the right block to the corner to save the loose ball and retain possession by calling timeout.

The Pacers, who often play up to the competition, turned in their best performance of the young season Sunday evening as they wrapped up the most favorable part of their schedule, playing eight of nine games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They outscored the visiting Clippers (14-4) in all four quarters to even their record to 9-9 with a 91-70 win.

Al Jefferson outhustled the Clippers for a loose ball. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Al Jefferson outhustled the Clippers for a loose ball. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Without Paul George for the second consecutive game, and as key reserve C.J. Miles remains out, the Pacers followed their coach’s instructions to be the aggressors.

“We knew tonight that we had to scrap even more against a good Clippers team,” said Pacers coach Nate McMillan. “We had to move the ball. We had to outwork this team, show some grit. I thought our guys came out tonight and fought.”

That starts with effort and playing physical, which is especially important against an agile, physical frontline of the 251-pound Blake Griffin and the 265-pound DeAndre Jordan. The Pacers outrebounded the Clippers, who are in the middle of their first big road trip of the season with six games over 10 days, by 12 and outscored them in the paint, 42-16.

Beyond the Clippers’ poor offensive output, that’s by far the most stunning statistic of the night.

Never before had the Clippers under Doc Rivers, in three-plus seasons, failed to score at least 80 points. Until Sunday, when they were held to 70 — FORTY points below their season average.

The Clippers’ field goal percentage (31.4) was the lowest of any Indiana opponent this season. And the only reason it was as close as 21 was because the Clippers attempted 20 more free throws and outscored the Pacers by 18 points at the line.

(Sidenote: Because the Clippers missed five free throws, everyone gets a free sausage biscuit at Hardees. … The diehard fans already knew that. One of the loudest cheers came with the fifth one was no good.)

McMillan appreciated his team’s consistency in making the effort plays. He’s been calling for it for several weeks now.

He liked seeing Jefferson scored 16 points for the second game in a row, or Rodney Stuckey (12 points, five rebounds) stepping up with Teague (seven points, and a season-high 10 assists) in foul trouble. He liked how they forced 20 turnovers against a team that averages just 12.2 per game.

“Our defense was really good,” said McMillan. “We were up, active hands. It’s a challenge to guard the Clippers.”

In George’s absence — and he’ll sit at least one more game due to a sore left ankle — Robinson III isn’t looking over his shoulder. He followed up a career-high 20 points on Friday with 17, plus six rebounds tonight. He’s taking advantage of the moment, chasing down every loose ball, and confidently firing away.

“He’s just been solid,” McMillan said of the third-year wing. “We’re not calling plays for him. He’s allowing the game to come to him. He’s playing in the flow of the game. He’s getting himself open. What I really like is that he defending hard, working hard on the defensive end of the floor. And he’s trying to help on the boards.”

“I’m not surprising myself, I think I’m surprising a lot of people that just haven’t got the opportunity to see me play much.”

[Pacers Podcast: Glenn Robinson III]

Jefferson, the veteran and, as he joked, one of the final true big men still playing, was a steady hand all game long.

“My legs are getting under me, I’m getting into a great rhythm,” said Jefferson, who admitted a few weeks ago that he was not yet in the shape he needed to be in to play this uptempo style. “Myles (Turner) is doing a great job of setting the tone and it kind of motivates me to go out there and keep it going.”

The Pacers have Monday off, and then they’ll hold practice on Tuesday in Portland where McMillan last was a head coach. That’s where they’ll begin their first road trip of the season: five games over 11 days out west.

“Even though we did some good things certainly the last couple of games,” McMillan said, “we’re going to have to be even better when you go on the road. And we’re going to have limit our mistakes and be even tighter as a team, as a group out on the road because it’s tough to win.”

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