The Indiana Pacers found a positive outcome from a whole lot of negative in their visit to Sleep Train Arena to face the Sacramento Kings. The Pacers actually appeared to have learned their lessons from their blowout loss in Phoenix, jumping out to 13-7 against a Kings team short Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, but they weren't prepared for Marcus Thornton to guide the Kings back from the six point deficit to score 37 first quarter points and lead by 11. Thornton was out of his mind in the first quarter, scoring 22 of his 42 points on the night.
Second chance opportunities and timely three point shooting helped push the Kings towards a 17 point advantage with 7:37 let in the second quarter. The Pacers trailed 49-32, their defense with no answers for the Sacramento offense and their own offense stagnant and out of sync. It was a poor combination for a team that needed some sort of push to avoid the game slipping out of their hands the way it did in Phoenix.
Indiana actually held Sacramento to 11 points the remainder of the quarter, a small first step in what was going to be a difficult comeback, especially given Sacramento's ability all night to find the timely basket. Lance Stephenson went from bad to good throughout the quarter, but he managed to close strong pushing the Pacers to within 10 at the break. A Paul George technical at the half was one of three for Indiana on the night, a difficult disadvantage and a steep price for the frustration of the game's overabundance of offensive foul calls.
George Hill managed to trim the lead to single figures in the third quarter, but with each Pacers push came either a turnover or a wildly frustrating shot by Thornton or Isaiah Thomas, who both carried the team all night. Back to back Indiana three pointers cut the lead to one with 5:39 left in the third quarter, but a David West technical helped tally a 5-0 Kings response. Indiana didn't notch a field goal after Hill's three pointer with 5:39 remaining, but success from the line allowed them to keep within striking distance, trailing by five heading into the fourth.
The Pacers struggled to get over the one possession wall as Thomas continued to keep them up. The Pacers finally broke through on an 8-0 run carried by West, but Thomas's big night put the Kings up 100-97 as he responded with five points of his own. With under a minute remaining, Stephenson trimmed the lead to one at the free throw line, but a George missed three set up Thomas to push Sacramento's lead to 103-99 with 18 seconds left.
In what was a do or die possession, George rose up for a three, sinking in a cool three pointer while also drawing a foul for a four-point play. George hit the free throw, and Indiana managed to force an improbable overtime period that featured the Pacers wearing down Sacramento and their heavy dose of Isaiah Thomas. West hit a three pointer of his own with the shot clock winding down in OT as George and Stephenson helped keep the game at arm's length.
With 23 seconds and the Pacers leading 114-111, Thomas tried to make a play, but George made a tremendous steal on Thomas, just taking the ball from him as he iced Indiana's 116-111 victory, moving them to 34-8 on the season, but more importantly, avoiding their second two game losing skid of the season. The Pacers were able to spur the comeback with better focus and communication, something that was clearly lacking early in the game.
Sacramento shot upwards of 56% early in the game, but Indiana had drawn that number down to 38.6% by the time the final horn sounded. They were outrebounded the entire night and allowed 19 offensive rebounds, but did a tremendous job all night limiting fast break opportunities (winning 21-9) and not allowing Sacramento to capitalize on turnovers (allowing just five points on 12 TOs). They had 10 steals and nine blocks and despite the technical fouls, had the Kings' entire front court in foul trouble.
George stayed cool in wrapping up the regulation segment of tonight's game, overcoming struggles and a team high four turnovers as part of his 36 point, five rebound, and four steal night. George shot 12-22 from the field, 8-8 from the line, and was consistent at making the plays needed for the Pacers to come away with it. But despite scoring 36 points, George was only the game's third highest scorer as Thornton scored 42 and Thomas put in 38 as Sacramento's only double figure scorers.
Stephenson's night was all over the place, solid playmaking mixed in with a plethora of bad shots (some going in, others not), but he found himself a 24 point, 10 rebound double double. His six assists were second only to George Hill who had eight (and eight rebounds). The two really opened up Indiana's offense, and while Hill was just 3-9, he put in some key points throughout the night, scoring 10 points, grabbing three steals and coming close to a triple-double.
Roy Hibbert had five blocks to play the defensive anchor in the comeback, but was awful on the offensive side of the ball going 3-11 for 10 points, also putting in a double double with 11 rebounds. est helped offset any offensive woes from the front line, scoring 22 points on an efficient 9-14 shooting, and was a key part in Indiana finally breaking through into the lead late in the fourth quarter.
All five starters reached double figures and it was a familiar performance from the starting unit to last year with a lackluster bench showing. Danny Granger (seven points) and Luis Scola (six points) made the biggest impact off the bench, but that's more in line with how poor the bench unit played. Scola was just 3-10 on the night and Granger 2-5, which was still better than C.J. Watson's 0-5. Them having a poor game is what it is, but with the heavy minutes logged by the starters, tomorrow night's game will require them to step up and carry the load more.
That game will be a back-to-back road affair against Brian Shaw and the Denver Nuggets. The Pacers have struggled on second night of back-to-backs and the short turnaround and high altitude sure don't appear to be giving Indiana any kind of favors heading into the game. The game will be a 9 PM ET tip, the earliest of this West coast swing, as the Pacers will look to clinch a winning record with a difficult game coming up.