George lifts Pacers over Knicks

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Indiana Pacers’ George Hill, left, and David West, right, strip the ball from New York Knicks’ J.R. Smith during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, in Indianapolis. The Pacers won 81-76. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana–The Indiana Pacers won the battle of the first-placed teams Thursday, beating the New York Knicks 81-76 behind a superb defence and 24 points and 11 rebounds from forward Paul George.

George also had six steals and five assists for the Pacers, who won their third consecutive National Basketball Association game.

“We are improving every game,” George said. “Our defence is holding up. We may not score a lot of points but our offence is going to come around. Right now we are just grinding it out.”

While George did a little bit of everything, Ian Mahinmi came off the bench to help out with the scoring. Centre Mahinmi finished with 13 points as he became the only other Pacer player to reach double figures.

“In the first half I struggled so I knew I had to get going,” George said. “I really tried to defend and was able to get some easy baskets.”

The Central Division leading Pacers limited the Knicks to 26 points below their average two days after holding the reigning NBA-champion Miami Heat to 77 points. The Pacers improved to 22-14 while the Knicks fell to 23-12.

The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony, serving a one-game ban for trying to confront Boston’s Kevin Garnett following Monday’s loss against the Celtics.

Without the league’s second leading scorer, New York shot 35 percent from the field to drop back-to-back games for the third time this season.

J.R. Smith scored a game-high 25 points and Tyson Chandler added 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Knicks, who are first in the Atlantic Division.

Anthony was suspended for trying to confront Garnett in the arena tunnel, near the players’ locker rooms, and in the parking garage.

Anthony and Garnett battled all game long on Monday and things almost escalated following the game as Anthony dressed quickly then tried unsuccessfully to locate Garnett.

The Knicks won this season’s first meeting between the two teams, an 88-76 win on November 18 at Madison Square Garden. New York has lost four of its last six in Indianapolis.

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