The Indiana Pacers appeared a step slow out of the gate in their early tip against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but despite a consistent lack of offense through three quarters, they were slowly able to choke the offense out of the Cavaliers before pushing forward in the final period to put a stamp on their fifth straight victory. The Pacers found themselves by as many as eight in the first quarter, with rebounding and free throws leading Cleveland to an early 17-9 advantage.
Indiana just couldn't find a rhythm offensively, much less an offensive rhythm that also resulted in getting a string of stops. While Cleveland didn't shoot well, their ability to control the glass opened up scoring opportunities for them to stay one step ahead of the Pacers. Once Indiana took the lead at 37-36 late in the second quarter, the game went back and forth throughout the third quarter, with Tyler Zeller making it a 68-65 game in Cleveland's favor a basket into the fourth.
The third quarter has been one of strengths for Indiana during the 2013-14 season, but it was an uphill battle in today's game, with the Pacers appearing much like last year's team, heavily prone to long scoring droughts and a lack of go-to scoring. But it was their defense that really stepped up and kept the Cavaliers from making more of their opportunities than they did. Indiana didn't do a great job of keeping Cleveland off the scoreboard when they had opportunities to push the game into a multiple possession game, which the Pacers couldn't do through the first three quarters.
However, that was mostly the byproduct of Indiana's own offensive struggles as opposed to their lack of defensive intensity. It was, as was the case last year, a necessity for their defense to keep their offense alive until it was finally able to come around, which it did when the floodgates opened on both ends, forcing seven turnovers ash the Pacers outscored Cleveland 26-10 in the final period as they pull away in the fourth quarter to win 91-76.
A big part of Indiana's offensive struggles had to do with Paul George going nearly scoreless across the middle two quarters. His lone three pointer with a minute left in the third quarter was his first points since the first quarter. George opened up for 10 points in the fourth quarter as Indiana pulled away, including a pair of soft foul and-ones, but his shooting struggles on a 7-19 night helped drown Indiana's offense in molasses.
Indiana has plenty of capable scorers, but George's scoring reliability has lifted Indiana to the level they are, as opposed to the level they were last year. His misses where a slight bit uncharacteristic, though he certainly wasn't deterred by his misses, going 2-11 from there point range. He did pull down eight rebounds on a night the Pacers were outrebounded by seven, but it was easy to see George expecting the next one to go down. Is that a concern? It certainly can be on nights where Indiana is beaten on the glass and is unable to settle into an offensive groove, but those nights are really few and far between.
There were plenty of good things to take from Indiana's play despite their offensive struggles through the first three quarters, mostly headed up by George Hill's splendid defensive effort on Kyrie Irving. Hill had 13 points and six rebounds with a pair of steals as an instrumental piece in making Irving an afterthought for much of the game. Irving wrapped up the night on 3-9 shooting for 10 points. He injured his knee in the third quarter, needing help off the floor before returning to the court in the fourth quarter, not looking right, and after the game saying he didn't feel right as an MRI looms for him.
Lance Stephenson was excited about the early tip, claiming it's when his energy level was at its highest during the day. He certainly showcased that energy throughout the night with some dazzling passes, totaling eight assists on the night. He shied away from scoring when he wasn't getting his looks to go, but in his defense, it wasn't just his looks that weren't going down.
Hill went 3-6 from three point range, but the team as a whole was a woeful 5-25 from behind the arc. The looks were mostly there, the shots just weren't falling. Danny Granger missed all four of his three point attempts, but still racked up a bench high 12 points thanks to his ability to attack the rim. Granger's game slowly seems to be taking shape. He not only had a pair of buckets in the paint, but managed to work his way to the line for six attempts. Even with Indiana's offense a step off kilter, Granger's scoring was a key part of their early second quarter positives.
Roy Hibbert had nine points in the first quarter as he scored 19 points on 8-13 shooting. Hibbert made his offensive effort count, and despite having no defensive rebounds in the game, his five blocks more than made up for it. David West didn't fare much better with just four rebounds, but Luis Scola made the most of his night, grabbing a team high nine rebounds with he and Ian Mahinmi each scoring six off the bench.
The win puts Indiana at 25-5 on the year, wrapping up the 2013 part of their season as well as possible. The Pacers will have a quick turnaround as they get to spend New Year's across the border in Toronto, where they'll face the Raptors on a back-to-back on the first day of 2014. Toronto, who enters tonight's game in Chicago 7-3 since trading Rudy Gay, will also be on the second night of a back-to-back.