Wed. Final: Pacers 107, Bucks 99
Next game: Friday, January 30 at Toronto
Bucks Shots at 5:40 p.m. on Newsradio 620 WTMJ and coverage on Live at 10 on TODAY'S TMJ4
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- T.J. Ford's driving skills keep improving.
Even when Danny Granger isn't around to help co-pilot -- and even though his ailing back still isn't 100 percent.
The veteran guard maneuvered around Milwaukee's standstill defense Wednesday night, repeatedly exploiting the gaps to match a career high with 34 points and leading the Pacers past his former team 107-99.
"Knowing that he (Granger) was out, scoring had to come from somewhere," Ford said. "I just came out and tried to be aggressive."
Ford, who had been slowed by back spasms earlier this month, has finally started to look like himself.
He's topped 20 points in three of the last four games, and on Wednesday provided the energy boost Indiana needed with its leading scorer dressed in street clothes.
Granger missed the game with a sore right knee, but Ford's ability to use nifty moves or beat the Bucks off the dribble was just what the Pacers needed.
And the Bucks couldn't stop him.
"I thought T.J. was playing relentless, like he can," Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. "The guy is very quick. He can break down defenses. He broke us down tonight."
Ford wasn't the only Indiana player who exploited the middle of Milwaukee's defense. Jarrett Jack followed Ford into the lane, finishing with 14 points. Mike Dunleavy and Rasho Nesterovic also had 14 each.
But Ford put Indiana in control early and helped them close it out late.
Indiana has now won three of four and held the Bucks under 100 points one night after giving up 135 points at Orlando. It's only the fifth time since Dec. 15, a span of 23 games, the Pacers limited an opponent to fewer than 100 points.
Of course, there was an explanation.
The short-handed Bucks were without Michael Redd, who sustained a season-ending knee injury Saturday, and center Andrew Bogut, who missed his eighth straight game as he recovers from back spasms. Early in the fourth quarter, Milwaukee took another blow when guard Luke Ridnour left after taking an errant elbow to the nose.
Ridnour walked off with a towel over his bloody nose and was later diagnosed with a concussion. He did not return and Skiles had no additional update.
So Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson produced the points. Villanueva finished with 28 points and eight rebounds before fouling out. Jefferson added 19 points and guard Ramon Sessions had 16 points.
But it wasn't nearly enough to fend off Ford's drives.
"I'm able to get back to playing my style, to be aggressive and make cuts and certain moves," he said. "I'm not limited anymore."
Milwaukee found out the hard way.
Ford quickly put Indiana in position to take control by scoring six points in a 15-0 run that gave Indiana a 21-6 lead less than six minutes into the game. Indiana then used a 7-0 second-quarter run to extend the margin to 57-37.
If that wasn't bad enough, fans heckled former Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson, now a Bucks assistant. Sampson was making his first game appearance in Indiana since the NCAA punished him for making more than 100 impermissible phone calls.
Some fans yelled, "Kelvin, can you hear me now?" and the Pacers mascot even walked behind the Bucks bench with a large, fake cell phone during a first-half timeout.
The Bucks ignored all that, and rallied.
They closed the gap to 63-51 at halftime and were within 74-72 with 4:54 left in the third quarter before the Pacers steadied themselves.
Indiana used a 6-2 spurt to rebuild an 80-74 lead -- a margin they maintained through most of the fourth quarter.
Milwaukee was as close as 94-91 with 5:07 to go, but the Pacers' answered with layups from Nesterovic and Jack, a free throw from Ford and another Ford layup to make it 101-95. Indiana sealed it by making three-of-four free throws in the final 10 seconds.
"He was very aggressive," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said of Ford. "I thought he and Jarrett at the point, really through most of the game, really attacked the basket and got some great looks for themselves and for everybody else."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)