INDIANAPOLIS — George Hill has given Indiana the scoring punch it needed all season. He's also helping the Pacers' improved defense deliver the knockout punch.
The combination has surging Indiana right back in the playoff chase.
Hill scored a season-high 21 points Wednesday night, the defense forced 16 first-half turnovers and the Pacers pulled away for their second-biggest win of the season, 105-82 over struggling New York.
"We're just playing basketball the right way now," Hill said after going 8 of 13 from the field and making three 3-pointers. "I'm just trying to be aggressive and lead this team."
The victory put Indiana in the No. 9 slot in the East, one-half game behind Miami for the final playoff spot.
Not long ago, the playoffs seemed like a long lost quest.
But since Hill has gotten healthy, the Pacers (26-34) have turned things around.
They are now 11-3 with Hill in the starting lineup and have the NBA's best winning percentage (.818) since the start of February. The latest stretch includes nine wins in 11 games and now three three-game winning streaks, a season best. Indiana can win its fourth straight Friday.
So five days after getting the first triple-double of his career, Hill could have posted a double-double if the game had been closer. He wound up finishing with six assists and also played a major role in forcing 19 Knicks turnovers, which Indiana turned into a 23-6 scoring advantage in points off turnovers.
About the only thing that did go wrong for Hill was a missed dunk.
"What he gives us at the offensive end when he is out there, the better our odds are of winning that stretch," coach Frank Vogel said.
Indiana made it look easy despite playing without its two All-Stars. Paul George remains out with a broken right leg, while Roy Hibbert sat out to rest. Still, four Pacers reached double figures including Hill and Rodney Stuckey, who had 17 on a night Indiana shot 47.5 percent from the field.
For the Knicks (12-48), it was another dismal night.
Without Carmelo Anthony (knee surgery) and Jose Calderon (sore left Achilles' tendon), Andrea Bargnani led New York by matching his season best with 25 points. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 13 points as the Knicks lost for the 10th time in 12 games and fell by 20 or more points for the second time in two nights.
"We had eight turnovers in the first quarter, and on the road, that's not a recipe for success," coach Derek Fisher said. "We put ourselves behind early and playing uphill on the second night of a back-to-back is just tough to do."
Indiana made sure this one was never close.
The Pacers jumped to a 30-19 lead after one quarter, methodically pulled away in the second and closed the half on a 9-2 spurt to make it 65-41. That's the highest first-half point total for Indiana all season.
New York opened the second half on a 12-3 run to close the deficit to 68-53 early in the third quarter, but Indiana answered with six straight and extended the lead to 88-64 after three. The Knicks never got closer than 20 again.
"Coach said at the beginning of the game that we have to have active hands, we have to turn it over," Hill said. "I think every guy that came in the game had to have that mentality."
Knicks: Indianapolis has been an unwelcome venue for New York lately. The Knicks have lost six straight regular-season games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, including twice this season by margins of 21 and 23 points. Two years ago, Indiana eliminated New York in the Eastern Conference semifinals in Indy, too.
Pacers: Why did Vogel give Hibbert a break? Vogel wants to manage Hibbert's late-season minutes better this season than last. So with Wednesday's game the only one on the docket between Sunday and Friday, Vogel seized the opportunity. Hibbert is expected to start Friday night. Guard C.J. Watson also sat out Wednesday.
Knicks: host Pacers on Saturday.
Pacers: host Bulls on Friday.