INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana spent the offseason investing heavily in its bench.
On Wednesday night, the Pacers got the payoff.
Luis Scola, Donald Sloan and Lance Stephenson combined for all 12 points in a decisive fourth-quarter run, sending the still unbeaten Pacers past division rival Chicago 97-80 and to its best start since 1971-72.
“They brought all of us in to make the bench a little deeper than it was last year, and I think the guys on the bench know their role,” Sloan said. “So it just fits.”
The NBA’s last unbeaten team is 5-0 for the first time in Indiana’s NBA history. Indiana can tie its franchise record, 6-0 set by the 1970-71 ABA powerhouse, when Toronto visits Friday night.
Wednesday’s victory may have been the most impressive yet.
Again, the Pacers played short-handed. Starting point guard George Hill missed his third straight game with a sore left hip, and swingman Danny Granger still has not played because of a strained left calf.
Again, they had to rally from a halftime deficit.
And again, they found a way to close it out.
Paul George, the league’s second-leading scorer, finished with 21 points, six rebounds and three assists. David West had 17 points and 13 rebounds, both season-highs. Roy Hibbert had eight points, 10 rebounds and added five more blocks to his league-leading total.
But Scola, Sloan and Stephenson changed the script.
After missing his first seven shots and scoring just three points in the first three quarters, Stephenson had 12 points in the final 12 minutes including two big 3-pointers during the decisive stretch. He finished with 15 points. Scola added 12, none more critical than the consecutive baskets he made midway through the fourth. Sloan scored nine points including the 17-footer that tied the score midway through the fourth.
“We just play hard. We feel like that we going to bring it every night on the defensive end, offensive end and we going to find a way to get that ‘W,’” Stephenson said. “And we did that tonight.”
It sure wasn’t easy against their fiercest division rival.
Derrick Rose and Luol Deng scored 17 points each to lead the Bulls (1-3), though Rose scored only three points in 12 minutes in the second half and he spent the first half of the fourth quarter on the bench.
“A couple players on their team made big plays, great second-chance efforts with the rebounding and Lance, I think, played great for them tonight knocking down shots and just playing hard,” Rose said before answering a question about his minutes. “I’ll leave that up to Tibs, he’s the coach on this team, so I’ll let him coach.”
Perhaps Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau thought it was better to protect Rose’s surgically repaired left knee in this rugged game that looked more like a boxing title bout.
Bodies repeatedly crashed hard to the court all night, and the game got progressively more physical with each quarter.
Pacers backup center Ian Mahinmi left late in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle and did not return. Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich was called for a flagrant foul in the fourth. There was a resounding thud inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, too, when Chicago Joakim Noah hit the court while trying to protect his own basket late in the fourth.
But until the stretch, neither team could get the upper hand.
After leading 25-19 at the end of one quarter and trailing 43-37 at halftime, it looked like Indiana might break away after starting the third quarter on a 10-2 run and then coming up with a 9-2 spurt to regain the lead. When Sloan hit a 3-pointer with 1:12 left in the third, Indiana suddenly led 63-55.
It didn’t last.
Hinrich answered with a 3, Deng hit an 11-foot jumper, drawing a foul on George, and Pacers coach Frank Vogel was called for a technical. Chicago hit both free throws to make it 63-62. The Bulls pulled even on Mike Dunleavy’s 3 early in the fourth and regained the lead, 67-65, on Deng’s midrange jumper with 8:38 to play.
Sloan tied the score at 67, Stephenson gave Indiana the lead with a 3, Scola followed that with consecutive baskets and Stephenson closed the run with another 3 to make it 77-69 with 5:16 to go.
Chicago never seriously challenged again as the Pacers pulled away.
“We’ve had a good feel since he got here. The guy’s just a winner,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of Scola. “He just goes out there and knows how to play this game. He’s one of the best players in the history of international basketball and one of the best power forwards in the game. We’ve got him as a backup power forward. It’s quite a luxury.”
THUNDER 107, MAVERICKS 93
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant had 23 points and 10 assists, Russell Westbrook scored 22 points and Oklahoma City pulled away in the second half to beat Dallas.
Serge Ibaka added 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Thunder (3-1), who won their second straight game following Westbrook’s return from two offseason knee surgeries.
Jeremy Lamb added 13 points for Oklahoma City, which has won 11 straight games against the Mavericks, including the playoffs. The last loss for the Thunder against Dallas was on Jan. 2, 2012.
Monta Ellis led the Mavericks (3-2), who were playing their second game in two nights, with 20 points. Jae Crowder and Shawn Marion added 17 each, while Dirk Nowitzki finished with 16.
SPURS 99, SUNS 96
SAN ANTONIO — Tony Parker scored 15 of the Spurs’ final 16 points and San Antonio withstood a hectic finish to beat Phoenix.
Parker scored 20 overall, Danny Green had 19 points, Tim Duncan added 17 points and Boris Diaw 11 points for San Antonio (4-1).
Markieff Morris tied a career high with 23 points and also had 11 rebounds for Phoenix (3-2). Morris’ twin brother, Marcus, added 11 points and Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee each had 15.
Plumlee’s reverse layup gave Phoenix a 96-95 lead with 1 minute remaining. The Suns had an opportunity to extend the lead following a miss by Duncan, but Manu Ginobili drew a charge on Danny Green.
Parker followed with a short jumper to give San Antonio the lead for good.
Gerald Green missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game.
CELTICS 97, JAZZ 87
BOSTON — Brandon Bass scored 20 points and Jeff Green added 18 to send Boston past Utah for its first win of the season.
The game reunited new Celtics coach Brad Stevens with Gordon Hayward, the Butler star who took the Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game against Duke. Hayward had 28 points and nine rebounds for Utah (0-5), one of the last two winless teams in the NBA this season.
The attendance of 17,130 was about 1,500 fans short of a sellout, ending a streak of 289 games dating to the end of the 2006-07 season.
Derrick Favors scored 10 points with 14 rebounds and Enes Kanter scored 22 with eight boards for the Jazz, who open a season with five straight losses for the first time since 1974, when they were still in New Orleans.
Gerald Wallace had nine points and nine rebounds for Boston (1-4), which led by as many as 25 points in the third quarter before Utah scored 17 of the first 20 in the fourth to cut a 22-point deficit to single digits.
WARRIORS 106, TIMBERWOLVES 93
MINNEAPOLIS — Klay Thompson scored 19 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and Harrison Barnes scored 14 points in his season debut to help Golden State defeat Minnesota.
David Lee had 22 points and 15 rebounds and Andre Iguodala scored 20 points for the Warriors (4-1).
Kevin Love had 25 points, 16 rebounds and six assists for the Timberwolves, who have lost two straight after a 3-0 start. Kevin Martin added 23 points, but the Wolves’ bench was outscored 27-10.
Stephen Curry had just five points on 2-for-8 shooting with seven assists in 24 minutes and sat out the fourth quarter with a bone bruise on his left foot.
MAGIC 98, CLIPPERS 90
ORLANDO, Fla. — Nik Vucevic had 30 points — including six free throws in the final 23 seconds — and 21 rebounds to help Orlando hold on to beat Los Angeles and earn its first three-game winning streak since December of last season.
Orlando led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, before Los Angeles took its first lead with a 25-5 run.
Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 23 points and 13 rebounds, and Chris Paul added 18 points and 10 assists. Former Magic guard J.J. Redick also chipped in 17 points.
The loss ends a three-game win streak for the Clippers, whose three-game road trip continues Thursday at Miami.
BOBCATS 92, RAPTORS 90
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gerald Henderson broke out of his shooting slump with a season-high 23 points to help Charlotte defeat Toronto.
After signing an $18 million, three-year contract in the offseason, Henderson came in shooting just 31 percent through the first four games. But he got off to a fast start this time and finished 10 of 17 from the field.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 14 points to help Charlotte win again after beating the Knicks in New York on Tuesday night. Second-year guard Jeffery Taylor continued to give the Bobcats (3-2) quality minutes off the bench, scoring 13 points. Josh McRoberts added 13 points and five assists.
Rudy Gay led the Raptors with 20 points. Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
BUCKS 109, CAVALIERS 104
MILWAUKEE — O.J. Mayo scored 28 points, including six 3-pointers, and Gary Neal had 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as short-handed Milwaukee held off Cleveland.
The Bucks, already without their top two point guards — Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour — also played without forward Ersan Ilyasova and center Larry Sanders. Ilyasova was out with a sore right ankle while Sanders was out with a sprained right thumb, injured in a weekend off-court incident that is being investigated, the Bucks said in a statement.
The Bucks opened the fourth quarter with an 11-2 run to take a 94-81 lead, but Kyrie Irving scored 10 consecutive points to fuel a 13-point run that put the Cavaliers up 104-103.
Caron Butler tipped in a miss by Mayo with 24.8 seconds left to put the Bucks up 105-104 and Mayo added four free throws in the closing seconds.
Irving led Cleveland with 29 points and Dion Waiters added 21.
WIZARDS 116, 76ERS 102
PHILADELPHIA — John Wall scored 24 points, Marcin Gortat had 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Washington beat Philadelphia to earn its first win after starting 0-3.
Bradley Beal had 17 points, Trevor Ariza scored 15 as seven Wizards reached double digits.
Evan Turner led Philadelphia with 24 points and Spencer Hawes had 13. Rookie Michael Carter-Williams finished with 19 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
PELICANS 99, GRIZZLIES 84
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Eric Gordon scored 19 points, Anthony Davis added 18 points and nine rebounds, and New Orleans led by as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter in its victory over Memphis.
Tyreke Evans had 16 points, Jrue Holiday scored 11 and Jason Smith finished with 10 points for the Pelicans.
Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 26 points before leaving in the fourth quarter with a facial injury. Marc Gasol had 11 points for Memphis, but connected on only 4 of 11 shots and grabbed one rebound.