INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — These Pacers know how to hold their punches.
Danny Granger scored 29 points to help Indiana beat the Milwaukee Bucks 118-109 on Thursday night in a game that featured two altercations, four technical fouls, a flagrant foul and an ejection.
The game featured playoff-level intensity. The Pacers needed a win to clinch homecourt advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and the Bucks desperately needed a win to stay in the East playoff race.
Two incidents in the fourth quarter put Pacers players at risk of getting into fights. The team wants to avoid suspensions so close to the playoffs, and the franchise wants to avoid fights as the memory of the incident between Pacers players and Pistons fans in 2004 still lingers. So close to doing something special and completely turning the page, the Pacers came frighteningly close to taking a major step back.
"We've got a lot more to lose in that situation if something happens, if anyone throws a punch or anything like that, so we have to have that composure to back away and realize our season is far from over," Granger said.
With just over 9 minutes left, Milwaukee's Mike Dunleavy drove to the basket and Leandro Barbosa fouled him hard. Dunleavy fell onto Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough, and Hansbrough and Dunleavy had to be separated. There still was bad blood between the two because Dunleavy broke Hansbrough's nose on March 24. Barbosa was called for a flagrant 1 foul.
"Some words were said, some tempers were lost," Hansbrough said. "It happens."
Later, Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, already called for a technical earlier in the fourth quarter, caused a scuffle while walking away after committing a foul. Sanders talked trash to Indiana's George Hill, pointed at David West, then went after Granger. Sanders' teammates held him back while Pacers coach Frank Vogel stepped in front of West. Sanders was ejected and Granger and West were issued technical fouls with 3:29 remaining.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles had little to say about Sanders' antics.
"No comment," he said. "I will let the league handle that."
The exchange energized Milwaukee, and the Bucks made the game close in the final minutes.
Luc Mbah A Moute hit a 3-pointer, his first of the season, to cut Indiana's lead to 113-108 with 36.8 seconds remaining. Hill made the second of two free throws with 36.1 seconds remaining to push Indiana's lead to six points. Granger made two free throws, then Paul George thrilled the crowd with a dunk to put the final touch on Indiana's win.
Hill had 22 points and eight assists and West added 21 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists for the Pacers, who won their seventh straight and 11th of 12.
"It's not that we didn't play hard, it's that you need an extraordinary effort against a team like this, not an ordinary one," Skiles said. "It's a great club. They'll be a tough out in the playoffs."
Brandon Jennings scored 27 points and Dunleavy, a former Pacer, added 23 for the Bucks. Monta Ellis, one of Milwaukee's top scorers, finished with 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Milwaukee lost its third straight and is running out of time to catch Philadelphia for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
West's tip-in at the buzzer gave the Pacers a 56-50 lead at halftime. The Pacers scored the final eight points of the first half after squandering a 12-point lead.
In one frantic third-quarter sequence, Indiana's Lou Amundson blocked a shot by Milwaukee's Drew Gooden, then threw a pass into traffic that Hill somehow snagged. Hill found Barbosa, who drained a 3-pointer as Beno Udrih fouled him. Barbosa converted the four-point play to give Indiana an 86-71 lead.
The Pacers led 89-78 at the end of the third quarter. Jennings scored 11 points in the period to prevent the Bucks from getting blown out.
Indiana held on and improved to 22-8 at home.
"We try to preach to everybody on this team that we've got to protect this house," Hill said. "This is our house. We can't let anybody come in here and try to take advantage of us, push us around. We've got to be the ones who go out and do that."
The Pacers improved to 7-0 with Hill as their starting point guard. Before the game, Vogel said Hill has done enough to be the starter, but he was unsure who would start if Darren Collison recovers from a sore groin.
"It's not my decision," Hill said. "It's the GM's decision and the coaches' decision who they want out there on the floor. I just know they gave me the opportunity to do it (start) and I just try to take advantage of it. At the end of the day, when D.C. comes back, we're going to get another great player back and whatever coaches ask us to do, I'm going to try to do it the best I can."
Notes: Indiana made 12 of its first 15 shots. ... The Pacers led 34-29 at the end of the first quarter. ... Indiana shot 33 percent and Milwaukee shot 29 percent in an ugly second quarter. ... Indiana won 105-99 at Milwaukee on Saturday. ... Indiana had held nine straight opponents under 100 points. ...
Collison sat out for the sixth time in seven games. ... It was the second time in the past three games West has had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. ... The Pacers have scored at least 100 points in 12 of their last 13 games.
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