If the Indiana Pacers do reach the NBA Finals, with any luck the Phoenix Suns won’t do the same.
As they’ve twice demonstrated in the past eight days, the Suns are the one team that apparently has the answer for the NBA’s best defense.
As a result, they are the one team that has beaten the Pacers twice this season.
Withstanding a furious fourth-quarter Indiana rally, the Suns held on for a 102-94 win Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
With the victory, the Western Conference Suns (28-18) swept the two-game series against the East-leading Pacers (35-10), who entered the night with the NBA’s best record.
Phoenix routed visiting Indiana 124-100 on Jan. 22, scoring 62 points in the first half, which was — at the time — the highest total the Pacers had surrendered in the first half all season.
But that changed Thursday when the Suns scored 66 in the first half in building a 66-49 halftime lead — an advantage that would swell to 19 on two occasions in the third quarter.
Despite the disparity, the Suns would need the wide edge to hold off the Pacers in the final quarter.
After the closing the third period with a 16-6 run, the Pacers closed to within one — 77-76 — in the opening seconds of the fourth on a layup by C.J. Watson. Although the Suns pushed the lead back to back 89-78 with 8:44 to play, Indiana twice got to within one again in the final minutes.
But the Pacers, who closed to 93-92 with 3:48 to play, couldn’t complete the comeback.
Indiana, the league’s No. 1 defensive team, allowed Phoenix to shoot a modest 42 percent from the field but gave up 47 percent from beyond the 3-point line, where the Suns were 8 of 17.
By contrast, the Pacers shot 43 percent from the field and had all five starters in double figures but were 1 of 15 (6.7 percent) from the arc.
Center Roy Hibbert, who was named a reserve for the East All-Stars just before tip-off, led the Pacers with 26 points. Lance Stephenson, who did not make the All-Star team but was regarded a solid candidate, picked up his NBA-leading fourth triple-double with 14 points and game-high totals of 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Stephenson tied the franchise single-season record for triple-doubles established by Detlef Schrempf in 1992-93.
David West had 18 points for the Pacers, and George Hill had 17. Paul George, who was recently selected an All-Star starter, had 12 points on a dismal 5 of 17 night from the field.
Moreover, Indiana got next to no offensive help from its bench, with Watson and Luis Scola contributing four and three points, respectively. No other reserve scored.
For Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic scored a game-high 28 points to go with seven assists. Former Pacer Gerald Green and Marcus Morris had 16 points each, and Markieff Morris added 15.
The Suns have now won four straight games. The Pacers have dropped two of their past four.
Indiana returns to action Saturday against visiting Brooklyn.