INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers were on their best behaviour while their teacher was away.
Lester Conner coached in place of Jim O’Brien, who attended a family funeral, and Indiana responded with an impressive 130-115 victory over the surging Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. Danny Granger scored 23 points to help the Pacers snap Toronto’s five-game winning streak. Indiana also ended a three-game skid.
Conner deflected credit.
“The guys gave me all they wanted, and I said, ‘Hey, you guys are telling me congratulations, it’s congratulations to you because you guys needed this more than I did,”‘ Conner said. “When the substitute teacher is around, you want to try to do good or try to test him to see what he has. Those guys went out and played their hearts out.”
The players said they wanted to win for Conner.
“Les is a lot of fun, he’s a great assistant coach,” forward Troy Murphy said. “He’s a guy you can always talk to and he’s a good dude. We’re happy he got the win.”
Murphy had 20 points and 14 rebounds. Roy Hibbert added 18 points and nine boards for Indiana, and Earl Watson finished with 15 points and a season-high 11 assists.
It was a season scoring high for the Pacers, who had scored fewer than 100 points in six of their previous nine games. Seven Pacers scored in double figures.
“A lot of guys played some minutes and we just moved the ball well,” Granger said. “I don’t know why it was so balanced, but that’s the type of games we need.”
It was a much different game than Indiana’s 117-102 loss in Toronto on Sunday. This time, the Pacers made 33-of-35 free throws and shot 52 per cent from the field.
It was just the fifth time the Pacers shot better than 50 per cent this season.
“A little different play calling, a little different freedom,” Murphy said. “He has his own style apart from coach O’Brien, but the message is the same. He did a great job tonight and really filled in well for coach.”
Chris Bosh had 35 points and 15 rebounds, and Andrea Bargnani scored a career-high 34 points for the Raptors.
Bargnani said the defensive meltdown rendered his personal accomplishment meaningless.
“When you lose like that, it doesn’t really matter,” he said.
The Raptors couldn’t explain their lack of defensive intensity. It was the highest point total they’ve allowed this season.
“The reason we came out the way we did, I don’t know exactly why,” said Toronto guard Jarrett Jack, who played for the Pacers last season. “We just didn’t play our type of game at all.”
The Pacers scored 50 points in the paint, their highest total of 2010.
“We didn’t do a good job of getting up into them and making them do something else,” Bosh said. “Our weakside defence was non-existent and we had too many blow-bys.”
Indiana led 58-53 at halftime and opened the second half with an 18-8 surge, capped by Murphy’s three-pointer. Brandon Rush’s three extended Indiana’s lead to 20 points just over five minutes into the third quarter.
The Pacers shot 76 per cent and scored 42 points in the third, one point short of its season high for a single period. Eight different players scored for the Pacers in the quarter.
Bargnani helped keep the Raptors in the game with 19 points in the third. Dahntay Jones made two free throws with one second left in the period to put the Pacers up 100-86.
The Raptors’ defence didn’t improve much in the fourth quarter.
“I think we played terrible defence,” Bargnani said. “We gave up 130 points. We wasted a good opportunity, but we’ve got to give them credit. They played really good.”
The Pacers looked like a different team, but Conner said he stuck to O’Brien’s philosophy for the most part. The biggest change was starting Hibbert instead of Mike Dunleavy.
“We never really try to change anything because it would catch the guys off guard,” Conner said. “I’ve been around coach O’Brien for a long time, so I know exactly what he wants and how he wants it. What he did say to me on the plane, he told me to do whatever I need to do to get a win.”
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NOTES: Toronto F Hedo Turkoglu sat out with a fractured bone under his right eye. … Pacers F Tyler Hansbrough missed his eighth straight game with an inner ear infection. … Toronto G Jose Calderon left in the fourth quarter with a sprained right ankle. … Toronto F Marco Belinelli scored 14 points in the first quarter and finished with a season-high 21. … Indiana’s reserves outscored their counterparts 41-21.