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Indiana stays hot, tripping up Clippers 106-92
By MICHAEL MAROT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Paul George put an emphatic 360-degree twist on the Pacers' latest blowout.
Lob City's stars just watched in amazement.
George scored 36 points, the last two on a reverse windmill dunk that brought fans to their feet and the Clippers to their knees in Indiana's 106-92 rout Saturday night.
"It was just instinctive," George said after helping to end the Clippers' five-game winning streak. "I wanted to put on a show for the fans."
The entire season has been a showcase for the Pacers (32-7), who have the NBA's best record, the league's best home record at 21-1 and a 3 1/2-game lead in the Eastern Conference over two-time defending champion Miami.
George's highlight-reel dunks and Lance Stephenson's increasingly commonplace poses are all becoming part of Indiana's normal routine.
George, last year's Most Improved Player, has six 30-point games and 27 20-point games this season. The 23-year-old emerging star is ranked among the league leaders in scoring, free throw percentage and steals, and he might be higher in rebounds and assists if the Pacers weren't blowing teams out with regularity.
Critics might contend the only real thing missing from his resume is pizazz. Those complaints disappeared with one dunk contest move that George saved for game time. Armed with a 20-point lead and a clear path to the basket, he leapt in the air, spun around, slammed the ball with one hand, stuck the landing and ran back to play defense. Fans and most of his teammates immediately jumped to their feet.
"I just wanted to celebrate," Stephenson said. "I didn't want to get back on defense. I've not seen one like that in a game I've been in."
Indiana fans haven't seen anything quite like this season, either, not even when Reggie Miller was running the show.
The Pacers have now won four straight, all by at least 14 points, and fell just short of winning four in a row by 20 or more points for the first time in franchise history.
All this came on a night Indiana wasn't even at full strength in the second half. Power forward David West was ejected at halftime after the officials gave him a flagrant 2 foul after a replay review. All-Star center Roy Hibbert and West's backup, Luis Scola, started the fourth quarter on the bench in foul trouble and wound up taking the rest of the night off.
Indiana didn't even need them. George barely missed, going 12 of 17 from the field, 5 of 6 on 3-pointers and 7 of 7 from the free throw line. He had six points and three steals, too.
Stephenson, who leads the NBA with three triple-doubles, settled for 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
The Clippers' bigger problem was Indiana's stout defense.
Indiana had a 48-39 rebounding edge, a 42-32 edge on points in the paints and limited the high-scoring Clippers to 39.8 percent from the field and six fast-break points.
That wasn't nearly enough to keep up with the Pacers, who ended the Clippers' run of four consecutive 109-point games.
"We didn't play well at all," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought their defense really rushed us. We talked about how they tried to channel you into their bigs and we kept falling for it over and over again. We just didn't execute offensively."
Indiana led 28-18 after one, 45-27 midway through the second and by as much as 20 in the third quarter before the Clippers showed any indication they may rally. Crawford spurred a 9-3 run to end the third quarter and got the Clippers within 81-72 early in the fourth.
But a layup from Stephenson started a 17-4 run, capped by George's incredible dunk that gave the Pacers lots of momentum heading into a five-game West Coast swing that begins Monday at Golden State.
"It's just guys rising up to the occasion and stepping up," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Lance and Paul, they can do a lot of things."
Notes: Indiana completed its first season sweep of the Clippers since 2005-06. ... The Clippers' five-game winning streak matched a season best. ... Hibbert finished with five blocks, all in the first quarter. ... Indiana has won 20 games this season by 10 or more points.
Updated January 19, 2014