INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana spent the offseason investing heavily in its bench.
On Wednesday night, the Pacers got the payoff.
Luis Scola, Donald Sloan and Lance Stephenson combined for all 12 points in a decisive fourth-quarter run, sending the still unbeaten Pacers past division rival Chicago 97-80 and to its best start since 1971-72.
“They brought all of us in to make the bench a little deeper than it was last year, and I think the guys on the bench know their role,” Sloan said. “So it just fits.”
The NBA’s last unbeaten team is 5-0 for the first time in Indiana’s NBA history. Indiana can tie its franchise record, 6-0 set by the 1970-71 ABA powerhouse, when Toronto visits Friday night.
Wednesday’s victory may have been the most impressive yet.
Again, the Pacers played short-handed. Starting point guard George Hill missed his third straight game with a sore left hip, and swingman Danny Granger still has not played because of a strained left calf.
Again, they had to rally from a halftime deficit.
And again, they found a way to close it out.
Paul George, the league’s second-leading scorer, finished with 21 points, six rebounds and three assists. David West had 17 points and 13 rebounds, both season-highs. Roy Hibbert had eight points, 10 rebounds and added five more blocks to his league-leading total.
But Scola, Sloan and Stephenson changed the script.
After missing his first seven shots and scoring just three points in the first three quarters, Stephenson had 12 points in the final 12 minutes including two big 3-pointers during the decisive stretch. He finished with 15 points. Scola added 12, none more critical than the consecutive baskets he made midway through the fourth. Sloan scored nine points including the 17-footer that tied the score midway through the fourth.
“We just play hard. We feel like that we going to bring it every night on the defensive end, offensive end and we going to find a way to get that ‘W,’” Stephenson said. “And we did that tonight.”