INDIANAPOLIS — Lance Stephenson wiggled his hips after a nasty crossover move. Paul George gestured to the crowd with his shooting eye and Danny Granger showed everyone he still has the touch.
This is starting to get fun for the Eastern Conference’s winningest team.
Stephenson finished with his third triple-double this season, George scored 24 points and Granger made four 3-pointers as the Pacers overwhelmed Boston 106-79 on Sunday to ruin Coach Brad Stevens’ return to his hometown.
“We’re starting the game off with high energy and we’re ending the game with high energy and in between we’re maintaining that energy,” George said. “It wears teams down, and I think that’s been the case these past couple games.”
Indiana (22-5) is taking full advantage of it, too.
Since losing at home for the first time Monday and then losing at Miami on Wednesday, their first back-to-back losses of the season, the Pacers have been almost untouchable. They led for the final 38 minutes against Boston (12-17) and the final 41 against Houston on Friday. They have the best record in the East and are making things look easy.
Stephenson finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and remains the NBA’s only player with multiple triple-doubles this season. George, who is lobbying for Stephenson to make the All-Star team, has made 16 of 29 shots over the last two games.
Roy Hibbert had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury and the first 25 this season with a strained left calf, was 4 of 5 on 3s. He scored 12 against Boston and has 17 points this season after scoring 27 all of last season.
Perhaps that’s why Stevens, a lifelong Indiana fan, called this the best Pacers team he’s seen in his lifetime.
“Adding Granger is scary,” Stevens said. “I think the more comfortable he gets, the better they’ll be. I think they’re already if not the leader for the hunt, they’re in the hunt.”
The resume proves it.
Indiana has won two straight, beating the Rockets, a Western Conference contender, and the Celtics, who entered Sunday tied for the Atlantic Division lead, by a combined 60 points. The 33 and 27-point victory margins are the two most lopsided wins Indiana has had all season, though the Pacers beat Milwaukee by 27 last month, and it’s only the second time they’ve topped 100 points in consecutive games this season.
The Pacers also will have a chance to pad their lead over the next couple of weeks. Sunday’s game marked the start of a 12-game stretch in which the Pacers will face 11 teams that currently have losing records.
“We are a tough basketball team, we know that we can play, we know that we can improve,” George said. “We are having fun out there because we are getting to know each other better.”
That’s a scary thought, even for Stevens, who was hoping for a much happier homecoming.
The Celtics coach grew up in Zionsville, a suburb on the city’s northwest side, and led nearby Butler to back-to-back national championship games before taking the Celtics job in July. During pregame introductions, he received a warm, polite reception from the home state crowd, which included his successor, Butler Coach Brandon Miller, and his former athletic director, Barry Collier.
The Pacers defense wasn’t nearly as welcoming. Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 13 points, while Jeff Green and Courtney Lee each scored 11. Nobody else reached double figures.
Stephenson was a showman all night, making nifty behind-the-back passes and at times dribbling wildly to shed defenders. So when he hit a 20-foot jumper after sending a Celtics defender sprawling on the ground early in the fourth quarter, he responded to the crowd’s ovation by wiggling his hips.
Pacers Coach Frank Vogel likes Stephenson for another reason.
“He’s such a gifted passer and playmaker, he gives us a real edge,” Vogel said.
Boston started well, taking a 15-10 lead after going on a 7-0 run. Things went downhill fast.
Indiana finished the first quarter on a 10-2 spurt to take a 20-17 lead.
After the Celtics rallied to tie the score at 23 with 8:49 left in the first half, Granger hit two 3-pointers to spur a 15-1 run that turned the game and gave Indiana a commanding 38-24 lead with 5:08 to play in the first half.
NOTES: The Pacers have won three of the last four and five of the last seven in the series. … The Celtics have played back-to-back games eight times this season and have now been swept five times.