INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Eight months after the Indiana Pacers embarked on a major rebuilding project, the first phase is almost complete.
They’re on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. Then the real work begins in phase two, and the Pacers are just as eager to get started.
Bojan Bogdnovic scored 28 points Friday night and Indiana used a late 9-0 run to pull away from the Los Angeles Clippers for a 109-104 victory that moved the Pacers within one win or a Detroit loss from wrapping up a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.
“(Making the playoffs) will mean a lot for all the Pacers organization because no one expected us to be in a playoff race,” Bogdanovic said. “We’ve just got to stick together and get a W against Miami.”
Back in July, after Indiana traded four-time All-Star Paul George to Oklahoma City, most people wrote off the Pacers’ chances.
Instead, general manager Kevin Pritchard cobbled together a core of young players ready to break out and a group of experienced veterans with potential to improve. They gelled quickly and began proving doubters wrong.
The result: Indiana is closing in on its seventh playoff trip in eight years.
And Friday’s game exemplified why the Pacers are sitting in this spot.
After taking an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter and falling behind midway through the fourth, the Pacers continued trading jabs and refused to let the Clippers get away.
Bogdanovic’s mid-range jumper with 1:40 left broke a 100-all tie, and when the Pacers scored the next seven points, it was over.
“We’ve been (closing out games) all year long,” guard Darren Collison said after finishing with 13 points and 10 assists. “If you have your team playing with the type of resilience and chemistry we have, it’s easy to close out games. That’s the easy part. Sometimes it’s hard to get wins when your team is not locked in and playing well together, but we’ve been playing well together all year long.”
The Clippers learned — the hard way — what most Eastern Conference teams already knew.
Despite leading for most of the first half, they allowed Indiana to break a 53-all tie with five straight points in the final minute. In the second half, the Pacers extended a 58-53 advantage to 75-57 with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
Los Angeles scrambled to get back into it on a night when Lou Williams had 27 points, 10 assists and one of three Clippers turnovers in the final 88 seconds. DeAndre Jordan added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
The Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games and saw their fading playoff hopes dealt another blow.
“We don’t have time to drop games like these,” Jordan said. “They’re a really good team and they let us back into it and we fought to get back into it, too. But we turned the ball over in moments and we can’t afford to do that.”
Clippers: Have lost three straight in the series. … Clippers coach Doc Rivers called two timeouts during a 13-second span in the third quarter and was clearly upset with the response from his players following the first timeout. … Tobias Harris had 18 points, Montrezl Harrell wound up with 16, and Milos Teodosic and Austin Rivers each had 10. … Los Angeles was outrebounded 41-33 and committed 15 turnovers.
Pacers: Victor Oladipo missed all seven of his first-half shots, wound up 4 of 16 from the field and still had 18 points. He also had six rebounds and two steals, extending his streak of consecutive games with a steal to 56, breaking a tie with Chris Paul and Gary Payton for the sixth-longest streak in NBA history. … Thaddeus Young had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Lance Stephenson added 13 points and four rebounds.
Rivers isn’t normally big on predictions. He sure didn’t hesitate Friday.
“Cleveland is still the favorite in the East, but they’ve had so much stuff,” Rivers said before the game. “Pat Riley always used to tell us we had to get rid of the clutter. Cleveland’s had more clutter this year than any team I’ve ever seen. … And there will be an upset in the East in the first round, you can just feel it. You just don’t know where it’s going to come from.”
Clippers: Finish a four-game road trip Sunday in Toronto.
Pacers: Host the Miami Heat on Sunday before starting a four-game West Coast swing.
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