Paul George scored 24 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out five assists and the Indiana Pacers took over in the fourth quarter of a 97-87 victory over the Orlando Magic in the season opener for both clubs.
The Pacers maintained the core of last season’s squad that took the eventual- champion Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.
Part of that nucleus, Roy Hibbert, finished with eight points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks before receiving a scare late in the game when he appeared to injure his left knee. He walked away under his own power after rolling around in pain and stayed on the bench for the final five-plus minutes with the outcome no longer in doubt.
He was given the all-clear and will be back in the lineup Wednesday night when the Pacers face the Pelicans in New Orleans.
Lance Stephenson, starting in place of the injured Danny Granger, chipped in 19 points and David West added 13 for Indiana, which opened the fourth quarter on an 11-1 run to pull away.
The Magic finished an NBA-worst 20-62 last season but stayed competitive Tuesday through three quarters. Their inexperienced but promising roster got a boost with the selection of Victor Oladipo as the No. 2 pick in the draft. The former Indiana Hoosiers All-American totaled 12 points in his debut.
Andrew Nicholson scored 18 points in the first half but was held scoreless after the break for Orlando, which shot just 39 percent from the field.
George beat the third-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer to give the Pacers a 69-64 lead, and three consecutive Magic turnovers to start the final frame allowed the hosts to jump in front by double digits.
Luis Scola, acquired in the offseason in a trade with the Suns, connected on a mid-range jumper to give Indiana an 80-65 cushion with under nine minutes to play, and the closest Orlando got from there was 10.
The Pacers poured it on early before the Magic got their feet under them and began chipping away at an early deficit.
Orlando found itself trailing 12-0 just 3:20 into the game but pulled within 23-18 at the end of 12 minutes and took its first lead, 31-29, on E’Twaun Moore’s steal and uncontested dunk with 7:44 remaining in the half.
Nicholson had 12 points in the second quarter, which ended with the Magic holding a 44-40 lead, and it was no more than a two-possession contest the entire third quarter.
NOTES: Granger, who missed all but all but five games last season with a knee injury, will miss approximately three weeks with a strained left calf … The Magic were without their starting forwards in Tobias Harris (ankle) and Glen Davis (foot) … Mo Harkless netted 14 points for the Magic … The Pacers committed 21 turnovers to Orlando’s 19 … Orlando had won seven of its previous 10 in Indianapolis.
“Hopefully, a sign of what we can be, not a great game, but we got out with a double-digit victory. It was a struggle there for a while. Roy was really big on the glass, especially early in the game. (On blocked shots) One of our strengths is our length. We preach not fouling and going straight up, getting a hand on the ball, not on the wrist. (Halftime talk?) It was really just settle down. Our nerves were impacting us. We had a lot of mental breakdowns in the first half. Lance is one of our best players, he’s extremely valuable for us. His stat line tonight reeks efficiency. Orlando Johnson, in the second half, was as good as anybody on our team the whole game.”
(on the flow of the game) “We just let up on energy. We came out and we were just running on adrenaline. And that was just carrying us through the first quarter. The second quarter came around and we kind of died down a little bit. We knew that they would come back and play us tight. (On Victor Oladipo) Oladipo is going to be a great player in this league. I told him after the game, just keep working. His team is really in good hands.”
“We talked about protecting home court and trying to build our ability to beat teams here on our home court. We’re happy to come out of here with a win. (On the big lead early) We knew Orlando was a young scrappy team with the ability to score points in bunches. I just thought in the third quarter we were able to settle our defense down, get them under control and work from our defense and out. (On the blocked shots between West and Roy Hibbert) We talked about trying to contest everything at the rim and obviously protecting our paint, which is something we didn’t do well in the pre-season.”
“(On his game) “Just being aggressive. (I was) trying to make plays for my teammates and create for myself – just being aggressive and making smart plays. (On staying in control) I know where my teammates are going to be. When I drive…I just pass it to a spot. I’m just trying to make plays when I’m running the fast break. (On the win) A lot of people came out and supported us. I’m happy for that. We just need to keep going and playing smart and playing as a unit.”
Orlando’s Victor Oladipo
(On coming back to Indiana) “It felt good getting that reaction from the fans. But I like to win. Overall it was pretty good, it was amazing, they showed a lot of love out there. I’m truly blessed, grateful and thankful. (On the first game in the NBA) I’m learning when to be aggressive, not too aggressive. I have to pick my spots. This was my first game. I just got here. It’s going to take time. You never know what to expect. I have to continue to play hard. I know that it doesn’t come overnight and that it’s a process and that I need to be patient. It’s frustrating because I want to be great and help my team win so much. I just have to be patient.”