With a familiar out of sorts in the second half as the Indiana Pacers' loss in Toronto, Indiana found themselves holding on tight to a win that slowly began to slip out of their grasps throughout the fourth quarter. Poor shooting helped define Indiana's night, even in the first half when they struggled to piece together enough to push the Cleveland Cavaliers out of reach despite holding a nine point halftime advantage.
The Cavaliers pushed the Pacers advantage down to two early in the third quarter behind big play from C.J. Miles, who led the Cavs with 21. Miles has been a bit of a thorn in Indiana's sides as a member of Cleveland. For whatever reason, he's a guy the Pacers have trouble shaking, and he was on full display with Cleveland missing both Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack. Miles was 8-13 from the field, getting his hand on three steals, and generally keeping the Cavaliers alive.
Despite the surge of Cleveland in the third quarter, Indiana never relinquished the lead before going on a 14-0 run that put them up comfortably 74-58 with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter. Whether the lead felt safe or the Cavs felt a need for intensity, Indiana began to get sloppy with the ball and four quick Anthony Bennett points helped tee off Dion Waiters to hit five of his next six shots, scoring 12 straight points for Cleveland as part of a 16-1 run that cut Indiana's advantage to just one point.
David West finally ended Indiana's field goal drought at the 2:44 mark, but a pair of easy Andersen Varejao dunks allowed Cleveland to keep pace with Indiana, as Roy Hibbert free throw woes led to three straight splits in the fourth quarter, keeping the Cavs alive in the game. Cleveland regained possession with seven seconds left, down 81-78. On the inbound, Matthew Dellavedova struggled finding a safe entry, finally flipping it to Earl Clark, who was whistled out of bounds when he caught the ball.
West was able to split his own free throw trip to ice a sloppy, but entertaining (albeit anticlimactic) win for the Indiana Pacers. The key for Indiana in their near gag was their ability to maintain the lead throughout all of the Cleveland pushes throughout the game. Cleveland last led at 27-26 early in the second quarter. As well, this was a rare close game for the Pacers, who are outscoring opponents by nearly ten points a game on the year.
In fact, the 82-78 win is Indiana's smallest margin of victory of the year, and just their third game played within four points (they're now 1-2 in those games). The Waiters fueled run helped cap what a poor night it was overall for Indiana, who shot a season low 36.4%, but were able to stand up defensively throughout the game (despite some woeful defensive efforts in some of the closing minutes), holding the Cavaliers to 34.2% on the night.
The Pacers managed to win the turnover battle, but the teams went in opposite directions in the second half with Indiana committing 11 second half turnovers. The Cavaliers scored 21 points off of Indiana's 16 turnovers, while effectively shutting down the paint, limiting Indiana to 22. The Pacers also did a good job inside defensively as Cleveland only scored 26 points in the paint, but their ability to force stops inside didn't equate to rebounding numbers as Indiana was outrebounded 49-42, allowing 16 offensive rebounds on the night.
The numbers were pretty bad in just about every case for Indiana. The battles they did win, they didn't win convincingly enough and their overall sloppiness allowed Cleveland to play free and play well down the stretch. George Hill was the only Pacer to shoot above 50% on the night, scoring eight points with a pair of three pointers. Paul George led the Pacers with 16 points on 4-10 shooting, grabbing five boards and dishing a team high six assists to help Indiana into the win column.
Roy Hibbert had his hands full with Andersen Varejao, but managed to score 15 on 5-12 from the field. His three free throws missed in the fourth quarter were most untimely, but he grabbed a team high three offensive rebounds. David West struggled shooting at 4-13 for 11 points, but hit a key bucket late in the fourth quarter to end Indiana's scoring drought. He filled out the stat sheet with seven rebounds, four assists, and two blocks and steals.
Lance Stephenson had some up and down play, scoring 10 on 4-8 shooting, but never quite looked in sync to rely on him to carry the team through their struggles. Danny Granger continues to improve from game to game, reaching double figures again with 10 points, hitting two three pointers. Luis Scola led the Pacers in rebounding with eight to go along with six points and C.J. Watson went 0-fer from the field, but got to the line for four points.
Indiana moves to 27-6 with their win over Cleveland, but road games on the second night of a back-to-back will continue to look like something to keep an eye on with their next back-to-back coming in Atlanta on Wednesday. Before then, the Pacers will have to figure out a way to get home with Indianapolis in the midst of a blizzard as they're scheduled to host the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. The game will allow the Pacers to erase the frustrating loss on New Year's Day in Toronto, but Toronto continues to play well, falling just shy of stealing a win against the Heat in Miami.