The Indiana Pacers have been rolling of late, and they entered Thursday night's game with the Milwaukee Bucks on the verge of clinching home court advantage in the first found of the playoffs. The Bucks, meanwhile, came in as the Eastern Conference's ninth seed, hoping merely to reach the postseason by overtaking the 76ers and/or Knicks. Their prospects dwindled, though, when Indiana's balanced scoring led them to a 118-109 win in a chippy, hostile game of basketball.
The game ended up being a pretty close, back-and-forth affair, but it didn't start that way. Indiana opened on a tear, pushing the pace to get George Hill finishes off the dribble and Danny Granger a couple of quick threes. The Bucks, led by Brandon Jennings, weren't playing poorly themselves, but Indiana just couldn't miss. They hit 10 of their first 13 shots and pulled ahead by as many as 12 points.
Once the starters took their early rest, though, the Pacers buckled considerably. Indiana's bench started forcing and missed 13 straight field goal attempts, allowing Milwaukee to go on a 15-0 run behind the scoring of Jennings and Mike Dunleavy Jr. Once Indiana's starters returned, things evened back out -- David West's inside presence was a big factor -- and the Pacers led by six at halftime.
The basketball from that point forward wasn't all that exciting. Indiana held a lead the rest of the way, getting useful contributions from each of its starters, all of whom scored in double figures. The real intrigue came from the rather bellicose relationship between the two teams. They've got a bit of history, and the physical play continued in Thursday night's game. First, Dunleavy and Tyler Hansbrough got into it a bit after Leandro Barbosa's flagrant foul on Dunleavy sent them sprawling onto the floor together. That paled in comparison, though, to Larry Sanders's fourth quarter flip-out:
Milwaukee actually went on a bit of a run after that, but it wasn't enough to overcome Indiana.
The Pacers' win was their seventh straight and, though they can still fall as low as the fifth seed, guaranteed them home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Bucks, in defeat, fell to 29-33 and lost any potential of overtaking seventh-seeded New York. Their only hope of making the playoffs now is to catch Philadelphia and get in as an eighth seed.
For all of Thursday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.