Six and a half minutes into the fourth quarter, the Indiana Pacers were down and out against the Los Angeles Clippers, trailing by 17, but despite all of the struggles the team had throughout the night, including the horrible start to the fourth quarter, there was a hint of life when back-to-back three pointers by Paul George and George Hill spurred a 13-0 run that made it a four-point game just in time for Chris Paul to keep the surging Pacers at bay with huge buckets to seal the win.
Indiana was of course without their starting center Roy Hibbert due to suspension, and it was impossible to not notice his absence when the Clippers owned the paint in the first half, finishing up with 50 points in the paint to really control the game inside. With all the grief given to Hibbert this season, tonight's game was a good example of what he brings to the Pacers defensively despite his struggles shooting the ball. The Clippers not only outscored Indiana by 18 in the paint, but had nine offensive boards, and were huge in picking up every 50/50 ball at crucial parts of the game. While there's no guarantee Hibbert would fix the loose ball issue, seeing the big fella dive at the ball could have certainly swung a key possession or two.
But despite the lack of Hibbert having a big impact, it's rarely ever one factor that swings a game. Indiana simply didn't play to their level in numerous aspects, did play to their level in other aspects (unfortunately), and the totality of it all came to a tilt against one of the league's true title contenders. The Pacers shot themselves in the foot with turnovers in the first half with 15 of a total 20. Los Angeles scored 21 off of those turnovers, and while you can look at the Clippers going 4-23 from three point range as an equalizer, the Pacers shouldn't have put themselves in the position with the kinds of unforced turnovers they did to not only waste a solid start for the Pacers, but keep the Clippers in the lead.
Defensively, the Clippers really did a superb job limiting the Pacers' effectiveness offensively, especially when they nearly put the game on ice with their 17-point lead. The Pacers certainly had a lot of really nice stretches tonight, but look at the box score and they lost every single quarter, including scores of 26-25, 23-22, 23-22. Despite limiting the Clippers to end of quarter buckets, losing quarters add up, and LA just needed a little extra push in their 27-22 third quarter to put the game away.
There was certainly no mistaking Ian Mahinmi or Jeff Pendergraph for Roy Hibbert tonight. Mahinmi has done a fairly good job this season at stepping up when the team needed him in place of Hibbert, but despite a pair of blocks, just came up with five rebounds. Pendergraph on the other hand had just two points and seven boards. It's tough to get upset with guys for being what they are, but it's too bad they weren't able to overcome the things Hibbert does bring to the floor.
One of the biggest swings of the game was the big advantage the Clippers had off the bench. LA outscored Indiana 43-16 off the bench, with Jamal Crawford leading the way with 23 on 9-16 shooting. It's easy to see why the Pacers were after his services last season, he really beat the Pacers in a big way tonight. The lone highlight off the bench was Danny Granger, who had a bit of a breakout night, scoring 12 points in 19 minutes on 5-10 shooting, including his first three pointer of the season.
Five Pacers total reached double figures, led by David West with 22. West did most of his damage from the free throw line, attacking Blake Griffin and Lamar Odom to get to the line 14 times. His shot, on the other hand, was just a smidgen off, making his automatic jumper a frustrating 5-14. West did hit a buzzer beating three pointer at the end of the first half to cut the LA lead to two.
Lance Stephenson was a big catalyst for Indiana, scoring 16 on 7-8 shooting, with seven boards and four assists. Stephenson did have four turnovers, but really helped spark the Pacers in a big way tonight by attacking the basket, and getting shots to fall. Paul George had 20, hitting a pair of three pointers during the fourth quarter comeback, but the difference between his late game success and Chris Paul was George not creating the kinds of looks down the stretch that Paul created for himself. While talk of George's ceiling comes up, the difference making buckets Paul had late is the exact thing you're looking for from someone on this team, and George is still a ways off of that kind of level.
Despite the loss, tonight's game was a very exciting one to take in. Both teams battled most of the night, and while Griffin's dunks in his 18 &14 double double night were the highlight as would be expected, Paul George had a big one as part of a four possession dunk off. Not only from a style standpoint, but just from a never say die standpoint, Indiana's 13-0 run late in the fourth quarter was fantastic to see. Despite everything going against them, they still switched the momentum on a dime to put the game in position for them to win it.
The Pacers are as good as advertised and showed it short-handed and mistake-prone tonight. The ultimate irony in tonight's loss is that it drops them back to third in the East after the Knicks edged out the Warriors last night, who were of course short David Lee because of Tuesday's scuffle. Indiana has another game tomorrow night, the season finale against the Toronto Raptors, as the Pacers try to exact revenge by sweeping Toronto on their home floor.