The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Eight straight wins are not enough for the perfect Pacers.
They have far bigger plans.
The NBA’s last unbeaten team remained undaunted Monday night, getting 23 points from Paul George and the first triple-double of Lance Stephenson’s career to run past Memphis 95-79 and complete a brutal five-game in seven-day stretch with a sweep.
Indiana extended its franchise-best start to 8-0, becoming the seventh team to achieve the feat since 2000 and the 18th team in league history to start a season 8-0, according to STATS.
“Everything we’re shooting for is attainable, but we’ve got a long way to go, a lot of work to do,” coach Frank Vogel said. “It was probably our most complete game.”
The Pacers made no secret of this season’s plan — dethroning two-time defending NBA champion Miami. The best way to do that, they figured, was earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and so far, nobody has been able to touch them. The Pacers already have a 31⁄2-game lead over Miami and Atlanta in the East.
Indiana is showing no sign of slowing down, either.
Rather than look fatigued after back-to-back wins last Tuesday and Wednesday and two more back-to-back wins Friday and Saturday, something Vogel said he had never been part of previously, the Pacers appeared to get stronger Monday.
They again dominated the glass, outrebounding Memphis 30-15 in the first half and finishing with a 45-32 advantage. They again relied on suffocating defense, which held Memphis (3-4) to a season-low point total and nearly 20 points below its season scoring average (98.5). And again they were content to share the honors.
George scored seven points during a key 9-3 stretch to close out the third quarter. That gave Indiana a 72-55 lead.
Stephenson, who is playing the best basketball of his career, finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds, a career-high 12 assists and only one turnover. Roy Hibbert added five more blocks to his league-leading total (35), George Hill finished with 13 points in his third game back from a hip injury and Luis Scola added 12 points off the bench.
Indiana could be making things even tougher for opponents soon, too. Vogel said before the game that former All-Star Danny Granger, who once led the Pacers in scoring for five straight seasons, will begin working out Tuesday and could return to practice as soon as Wednesday. Vogel did not say when Granger would return to the rotation. Granger has not played this season because of a strained left calf.
For now, though, fans seem content with the way things are going. During the final minutes, they even serenaded Pacers players with chants of “un-de-feat-ed.”
But the Pacers aren’t content with that.
“We are not looking at this 8-0 start,” said George, the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season. “We want to enjoy it, but we must let our strengths continue to lead us to victory. Everybody helps, everybody is doing their job.”
For Memphis, it was a rough night.
Marc Gasol, who showed his frustration at times during the second half, finished with 15 points and six rebounds. The only other Memphis players to reach double-figures were two guys with Hoosier State ties — Zach Randolph had 12 and Mike Conley added 11.
The Grizzlies shot just 41 percent from the field and were only 6 of 19 from 3-point range, and after a 15-3 run put Memphis in an 80-55 deficit just 83 seconds into the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies never had a chance.
“They’re the best defensive team in this league, they really compress the paint, it was hard for any of us guards to get in there and make anything happen,” Conley said. “They’ve got a lot of length, they’ve got great guards that play great ‘D’ and they made us take contested shots.”
The Pacers jumped to a 13-8 lead in the opening minutes, scored the final six points of the first quarter to make it 23-16 and then methodically pulled away in the second. Though Memphis closed to 46-39 at halftime, the Pacers put it away with the spurt spurred by George and Stephenson that eventually made it 80-55.
“Everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s playing together and everybody’s playing smart,” Stephenson said. “When we play like that, no one can stop us.”
Indiana now gets a three-day break before playing another back-to-back — hosting Milwaukee on Friday and visiting Chicago on Saturday.
Notes: Indiana led at halftime for only the second time this season. ... Memphis continued its trend, winning all of its even-numbered games and losing all of its odd-numbered games. ... The Pacers have won the last three in this series and are now 14-3 all-time against the Grizzlies in Indy. ... Grizzlies forward Quincy Poindexter left the game in the second quarter with a fractured nose and did not return.
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