pacers_bucks_score_WPThe Sports Network

The NBA’s best predictably beat the league’s worst on Thursday, but it was a lot closer than anticipated.

Roy Hibbert totaled 24 points and 12 rebounds and the Indiana Pacers eked by the Milwaukee Bucks 101-96 on Thursday.

“It was one of those nights, everything was feeling good,” Hibbert said. “Last time we played them I was 1-for-9 from the field and I put in a little extra work after the game, after practice, to make sure those shots fall.”

Paul George and Lance Stephenson netted 18 points apiece for Indiana, which has won three in a row — two against the hapless Bucks — following a stretch of three losses in a five-game span.

Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton had 23 and 22 points, respectively, for Milwaukee, which posted just its 11th win of the season on Monday against Philadelphia.

“We didn’t play our best game but we played pretty well,” said Indiana coach Frank Vogel. “You have to give the Bucks credit, they made a lot of big shots, well-guarded shots and didn’t quit on the game when we got a lead early. We did what we had to do to get the win.”

Milwaukee, after trailing by as many as 17 in the first half, actually led 60-54 following a Middleton 3-pointer less than three minutes into the third quarter.

The Bucks, however, went the final five minutes of the third quarter without scoring, and Indiana’s subsequent 11-0 run gave the hosts a 73-66 advantage entering the fourth.

Though the lead never changed hands in the final stanza, it was still a close, one-possession game coming down the stretch.

Knight’s layup had Milwaukee within 88-85 with under two minutes to go, and Indiana answered with the next six points to seal the outcome. George hit a 13-footer coming out of a timeout, and Hibbert tacked on two free throws and a jumper while being fouled on the next two Indiana possessions.

Even though Hibbert missed the free throw, Indiana held on for the win.

The Pacers doubled up the Bucks in the first quarter, 30-15, and were up by a dozen before Middleton and Knight combined on a 12-0 run over the final two minutes of the half.

Middleton scored the first seven points of the surge, and Knight followed with a 3-pointer and a runner just before the buzzer to even things at 50-50.

Notes: Indiana improved to 44-13 on the season, while Milwaukee fell to 11-46 … The Bucks made half of their 24 3-point attempts … O.J. Mayo donated 14 points for Milwaukee … The Pacers have won all three meetings against their Central Division rivals this season.

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