INDIANAPOLIS — New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon grew up about 12 miles from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In his only trip there this season, he had hoped to send the hometown crowd disappointed.
For awhile, it looked like he might.
Gordon’s 17 first-half points put the Pelicans in position to upset the league’s best team. But New Orleans’ offense sputtered in the second half, and the Indiana Pacers cruised to a 99-82 win and 26-6 record.
“I thought I did pretty good in the first half,” the former North Central High School and Indiana University standout said. “But in the second half, I kind of slowed down. They’re a good team, they’re a tough team and they really picked up their intensity in the second half.”
The Pelicans (15-17) were without forward Ryan Anderson, who, according to team officials, remained in a Boston hospital Saturday after suffering a cervical stinger in Friday night’s win over the Boston Celtics. Anderson was averaging a career-high and team-leading 19.8 points per game.
The Pelicans didn’t miss the forward’s presence in the first quarter. With a 19-7 run, New Orleans pushed out to a 14-point lead. During the stretch, Gordon scored nine points, including a 26-foot 3-pointer to jumpstart the run. The Pelicans’ led 27-15 at the end of the first period.
“They played really well,” Pacers forward David West said. “That’s how they came out and beat Portland last week. They just came out and blitzed them early and got on top.”
New Orleans continued to control the tempo through the early part of the second quarter, maintaining a double-digit lead until the 5:53 mark. The Pacers then fed the ball to Ian Mahinimi for a monster dunk, and the comeback was on. Indiana, powered by a combo of Lance Stephenson, Danny Granger and C.J. Watson, whittled the lead down to 49-44 at the half.
“(The Pelicans) were comfortable. We weren’t getting up into them and really making them do what we wanted them to do,” Pacers guard George Hill said. “They were out there doing what they wanted. In the second, third and fourth quarter, we picked up the pressure and forced our will.”
As the third quarter progressed, the Pelicans’ inexperience began to show. With 6:49 left in the third quarter, a reverse lay-up from Roy Hibbert cut the Pelicans lead to one. It was the last time New Orleans held the advantage. Indiana quickly ran the margin to double-digits and at one point led by 22 points.
“We wanted to mix up the matchup on Gordon, give him a different look,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We adjusted our offensive package a little bit to get more efficiency. What we showed in the third quarter is who we are: we’re a high-powered offense with some shot-makers.”
Indiana controlled the paint, outscoring New Orleans 42-36 and beating the Pelicans 45-33 on the boards. It had a familiar feel to NO guard Jrue Holiday.
“Earlier in the game, we were able to penetrate and get into the paint and make some nice plays at the basket,” Holiday said. “They began to close that off and keyed on Eric (Gordon) and Tyreke (Evans). They just stepped up their defense. It’s the same thing that they did the first time we played them.”
Paul George had his third double-double of the season, leading the Pacers with 24 points on 8-of-24 shooting and 10 rebounds. Stephenson had 19 points, while Granger scored 13 and Hill 10. Hibbert had almost as many blocked shots (5) as points (6) to go with eight rebounds.
Gordon added just four points in the second half to finish with 21 points for the Pelicans. Alexis Ajinca had 17, while Anthony Davis scored 10, had a team-leading eight rebounds and three blocked shots.