Even though the game was rarely within ten points, it was one the Indiana Pacers always kept themselves within striking distance of the entire second half, but costly mistakes and inability to cover a scorching San Antonio Spurs offense did their number on every single comeback push the Pacers had, and they had a boat load of comebacks in store tonight. It was a pretty solid second half effort from an Indiana team that never led, especially given the struggles in the first half to keep pace with a San Antonio offense that the Pacers were unable to contain, partially due to some lackadaisical defensive play.
Tyler Hansbrough salvaged a lot of the early Pacers offensive struggles, scoring 6 in the quarter as Indiana limped to just 18 points. The Spurs would go on to score 39 in the second quarter, but the talk before the game that revolved around the new look Spurs not having the same defensive intensity as years past sure didn't seem to have much as Indiana had just 33 points with 4 minutes left in the half and trailed by 22 points. It was all Indiana could do to contain the San Antonio three point shooting, a flat out epidemic the Pacers have had to fight with all season.
Paul George, saddled with foul trouble in the first quarter, turned the 22-point deficit into a positive, scoring 11 straight Pacers points, one of his many dunks in the game cutting the lead in half in the third quarter. Paul's play was remarkable in this stretch, showcasing yet another step forward for the young wingman in his evolution as an NBA player. He's still seemed a bit passive at times this year, but tonight he wanted to take over, and he seemed very much on the verge of doing so when Danny Green drew a charge on Paul that could've opened the floodgates of momentum in Indiana's favor.
Really, that was the entire second half in a nutshell. The Spurs were unable to break through the 15-point barrier, but Indiana themselves just couldn't get the game any closer than 8. When they finally got the necessary stops, made the shots, and had a chance to keep trimming the lead, it was Indiana that would shoot themselves in the foot and really keep the game from becoming theirs. The Pacers weren't in short supply of comeback ammo tonight, unfortunately, they weren't able to make the most of their opportunities and it's what ultimately sunk them in tonight's game.
Following the Paul George charge in the third quarter, the game never got back on his side, but the Pacers were able to get much improved play from the rest of the starters throughout the late stages of the third and fourth to keep the heat on the Spurs. But Indiana's struggles to contain the three pointer was in full effect tonight, and it certainly doesn't help get into the win column when Tim Duncan goes 9-9 from the line. Then again, neither does losing offensive rebounding battles 10-4 or getting outscored by 13 at the free throw line and giving up 9 three pointers.
Given the incredibly slow start, the Pacers were still able to score 70 points in the final 28 minutes of tonight's game. They had enough in the tank to make a comeback against just about any team in the league, but the San Antonio offense is one of the highest powered in the league, and it was in full display tonight.
After the jump, some accolades.
- The stretch late in the second and into the third for Paul George was about as close as he's come to absolutely changing the course of a game. It was his efforts on both sides of the ball in that stretch that turned a potential blowout into the uphill battle the Pacers fought in the second half. That the game went away from Paul, who was saddled with some rough fouls, was disappointing, given he was 8-10 with 18 points at that point. But credit to the Spurs for nipping George's takeover plan at the bud with the fouls they were able to get on Paul.
- Darren Collison had a particularly strong third quarter. Not only was his doing work offensively, but really did some quality work defensively. In his short time, Collison had 8 points, 4 assists and 0 TOs. He sat in the fourth in favor of George Hill, who really controlled the game well. He received a huge ovation coming into the game from the San Antonio crowd, finishing with 9 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers himself.
- Roy Hibbert opened up in the third quarter to take over for Paul George, but the big fella had a well rounded game himself, finishing with 15 and 7. Hibbert made some defensive plays in addition, racking up 4 blocks on the Spurs. Unfortunately, the blocks didn't turn into Pacers possessions too often, given San Antonio's ability to get to the loose balls tonight.
- David West led the work for the Pacers power forward combo of him and Tyler Hansbrough as they did their work often on the Spurs front line. The pair combined for a lot of big time plays, combining for 27 points. Unfortunately, the pair wasn't able to get any work done on the glass, and that really played its part when the Pacers were unable to give themselves in any second chance looks.
With it being April, it's a good time to start looking around the league and hope each successive Pacers loss doesn't hinder their chances for optimal playoff seeding in their current 5 seed. The Knicks took a big blow losing Jeremy Lin for the rest of the season in addition to the injury concerns for Amar'e Stoudemire, but still won against Cleveland tonight. Philadelphia beat Atlanta to draw within a half game of idle Boston for the Atlantic Division lead and the 4th seed. The Pacers also didn't fall behind Atlanta, and remain a half game up on the Hawks for the 5th spot.
For Indiana, they'll be traveling to Houston for a Sunday night showdown with the Rockets. Houston is fighting for their own playoff lives, and will be a tough team to beat, making the effort Indiana brought tonight that much more important as they hope to have an encore performance.