Clutch Ford carries Pacers over BucksJan 29, 2009 - 5:15 AM By Chris Nelsen PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- T.J. Ford is making the most of his return to the starting lineup.
In his second game back with the first unit following a month coming off the bench, Ford tied a career high with 34 points - including two clutch buckets in the last 2 1/2 minutes - to lead the shorthanded Indiana Pacers to a 107-99 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.
"I'm able to get back to playing my style, to be aggressive and make cuts and certain moves. I'm not limited anymore," said Ford, who has been battling a sore lower back. "I'm probably the best I'm going to get right now."
In a game missing its star power, the Pacers survived a late scare from the Bucks to win their sixth straight game at Conseco Fieldhouse. They were without leading scorer and potential All-Star Danny Granger, who was out with a sore right knee. After the game, Granger said his injury isn't serious and he expects to play Friday against Miami.
"Knowing that (Granger) was out, scoring had to come from somewhere," Ford said. "I just came out and tried to be aggressive."
The Bucks were playing without guard Michael Redd, who is out for the season with torn ligaments in his left knee, and center Andrew Bogut (sore back). Point guard Luke Ridnour also left the game early in the fourth quarter with a possible concussion and did not return.
"It's kind of been the story of the year," said Milwaukee forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals off the bench. "It's up to the team to fight back and respond. Our guys have to step up and respond to those injuries."
Ford, paired in the backcourt with fellow point guard Jarrett Jack, made the most of the extra offensive opportunities for the Pacers. Indiana surrendered a double-digit lead in the second half, but Ford helped put the game on ice down the stretch.
"We all know T.J. is one of the quickest guys in the league," Jack said. "When he's on, he's very tough to get out of the lane, tough to stop. I kept telling him, Keep being aggressive, keep being aggressive."
After Charlie Villanueva's mid-range jumper cut Milwaukee's deficit to 99-95, Ford answered on the other end with a driving layup to extend the lead to six. With the lead at four a minute later, Ford slithered his way inside and dropped in another easy lay-in to push the Pacers' lead to 103-97.
Ford buried a pair of free throws with nine seconds remaining to seal the win.
"He can break down defenses and we had trouble defending the pick-and-roll," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said of Ford. "He broke us down tonight."
The fifth-year veteran set the tone right away, attacking the basket with ease to the tune of 12 first-quarter points.
The Pacers shot 57 percent from the field in the first quarter and blazed out to a quick 16-6 lead on Troy Murphy's 3-pointer. Indiana continued to build the advantage, taking a 34-14 edge on Rasho Nesterovic's jumper late in the period.
Ford finished things off in the first, taking the shot clock all the way down to the last second and knocking down a short jumper in the lane to extend the advantage to 38-22.
The Pacers maintained a double-digit lead through the entire second quarter, although Ridnour scored the final four points of the half to cut Indiana's lead to 63-51 at the break.
Milwaukee pulled to within eight at 63-55 on Richard Jefferson's 3-pointer early in the third quarter. Later in the period, the Bucks used an 8-0 run to cut Indiana's lead to 72-70. The Pacers pushed the edge back to six, but Villanueva's two free throws brought Milwaukee within 82-78 entering the final session.
"After getting down big in the first half, we fought to try to come back, but we just couldn't get enough stops at the end," Villanueva said. "We need to be more aggressive in the beginning."
Villanueva led the Bucks with 28 points and eight boards and Jefferson added 19 points.
Jack, Mike Dunleavy and Nesterovic chipped in 14 points apiece for the Pacers.
INDIANA 107 FINAL
Jan 28 9:39 PM
INDIANA 82 END, 3RD QTR
Jan 28 8:53 PM
INDIANA 63 HALFTIME
Jan 28 8:10 PM
INDIANA 38 END, 1ST QTR
Jan 28 7:37 PM
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