The Indiana Pacers appeared to find themselves in good shape as they fought back from a 13-5 deficit against the San Antonio Spurs in the first quarter, closing the gap to two at 17-15 with 3:15 remaining in the first quarter. All the Spurs did was close the quarter on an 8-0 run that turned into a 15-0 run as San Antonio jumped ahead 32-15 at the 9:57 mark of the second quarter.
Indiana's offensive sets through that run were as bad as ever, and with the boo birds coming out at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers had found a new rock bottom to hit, shooting just 26% in the opening 14 minutes and digging themselves into a hole that would prove impossible to climb out of.
There were certainly pushes from the Pacers, but Tony Parker led the Spurs with timely shot after timely shot, which given the point gap was more than enough to keep the Pacers at arm's length. The Pacers made their biggest push in the third quarter, climbing back within single figures three times, but squandered opportunities after the stops they did come up with served as beneficiary for San Antonio.
Indiana continued the script in the fourth quarter, climbing as close as seven before more wasted opportunities set the Spurs up on a 15-2 run halfway through the quarter to push the lead into the 20's and send Indiana into another loss at 103-77. The offensives woes continued throughout tonight with Indiana shooting under 40% for the sixth straight game at 37.7% and coming short of 80 for the fifth time in six nights, scoring just 77.
There was enough defensively outside of San Antonio's late run to really weather their shooting, and while the late push may have set Indiana up in the loss column even with a competent offensive showcase, they limited the Spurs to 69 points on 42% shooting through the first three quarters. But the fourth quarter, where the Spurs dominated the offensive glass as part of their 15 helped push the game into blowout territory, one the Pacers absolutely deserved. Indiana had 12 second turnovers after just four in the first half, setting up 23 San Antonio points off of Indiana's 16 for the night.
Paul George led the Pacers with 16 points, shooting just 5-13. He made an effort to attack the basket, reflected in his five assists, but turnovers when driving and a failure to convert by either him or his teammates really ruined the attempts to spread the offense and move the ball. The offensive spacing had no room to breathe all night, and it was on full display when in contrast with San Antonio's offense, which always seemed to have an open shooter, something Indiana could use...and could stand to convert when they do.
Lance Stephenson played well in the second quarter as the Pacers tried to come back, but a limited second half, partially due to poor defense late, really dropped his night despite 15 points on 6-13 shooting. Roy Hibbert also had 15, but struggled shooting as well at 5-13, finding his best success when getting to the line, shooting 5-6. Rasual Butler got the bulk of the bench minutes tonight and played fairly well with seven points despite lengthy second quarter minutes no doubt helping the Spurs offensively.
The bench as a whole scored just 17 on the night, with Donald Sloan's four being second best behind Butler. Evan Turner was benched for the second half after a couple of bad shots in the first half proving his highlight. As a contrast, the San Antonio bench had five players at six points or more, scoring 45 total on the night, including garbage time, sure, but all fair given Indiana's own struggles in that same time frame.
For the first time all season, the Pacers drop to second place in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat winning their third straight to erase a three game lead in five days, taking a lead on percentage points, and though Indiana will still likely hold the tiebreaker should the two teams end up tied, that almost certainly won't come into play with the way Indiana has stumbled through the past couple of weeks.
The Spurs meanwhile win a franchise record 18 games with Parker leading the way with 22. On most nights, a loss to San Antonio, a team Indiana beat in San Antonio earlier in the season wouldn't be anything to bat a second glance at, but the Pacers ultimately showing little to no progress trumps losing to an otherwise great team on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Pacers wrap up March 8-10; a fond farewell to an awful month would be in order if the simple turning of the calendar would fix Indiana's offensive struggles. But things have been bad, things consider to be bad, and things certainly don't appear to show any signs of getting better. Indiana will have an opportunity to get back on the winning track on Wednesday when they host the Detroit Pistons as the regular season reaches its final seven games.