The question leading into tonight's game between the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center wasn't whether Indiana was going to claw out a victory sans Roy Hibbert against a 10-4 Mavericks team, but whether the Pacers would be able to keep the game within single digits, tipping off as 14.5 point dogs according to Vegas odds.
The Pacers showed a wealth of fight early, and despite turnover issues to open the game, hot shooting helped to minimize the threat Dallas posed. Donald Sloan had 13 points in the first quarter, going 6-7 from the field, carrying the Pacers into a positive position after a pair of Chris Copeland three pointers helped Indiana take a 25-24 lead into the second quarter. The Mavs used a 7-0 run to open the quarter to flip things in their favor, with a Dirk Nowitzki three pointer settling Dallas in a 34-30 lead.
Indiana would swing back, running off a 12-2 run over the next four minutes to go up 42-36. Chandler Parsons would sink in a three to shift the tides again, pushing the Mavs towards a late 47-46 first half lead as Indiana would sink in three consecutive three pointers to move them to a seven point lead that would settle at 55-50 at the break. The 55 points was a season high for Indiana, who were in control of the game at over 50% shooting and 7-13 from three point range.
In the third quarter, despite having very little defensive presence, the Pacers survived on offense and big time responses to every Dallas push, slowly building on a one possession lead, using a 6-0 run late in the quarter to jump up 85-78 heading into the fourth quarter. The Pacers went for the throat early in the fourth, hitting four three pointers in the first three minutes to move into a commanding 98-86 lead.
At that point, Indiana went dry, shooting 0-6 from the floor over the next four and a half minutes. Fortunately for the Pacers, the Mavericks struggled making headway during their drought as a flurry of foul calls would set Dallas up at the line. While the Mavericks would manage to trim the lead to five, they left many opportunities on the floor in forging a key comeback.
Solomon Hill would break the scoreless run with a pair of free throws and Sloan would punch in three more points to double the Indiana advantage. Dallas would get no closer than eight before Rodney Stuckey sunk in a dagger three pointer to lead the Pacers to an impressive 111-100 victory.
Tonight's game was the definition of a Western Conference contest and for at least one night, Indiana looked capable of competing in an unfamiliar style. The lack of Roy Hibbert, who sat out with his sprained ankle, turned things into a more up and down affair for Indiana, their ability to shoot upwards of 50% throughout the game while hitting 13 three pointers putting them into position late.
Indiana was not only uncharacteristically excellent offensively, but they were active in fast break opportunities, routing the Mavs to the tune of 17-4, a lopsided edge the Pacers have only seen the losing side of this season. Indiana also made the most of second chance opportunities, coming up with 15 second chance points, though that's well in their wheelhouse.
The win wouldn't have been possible without Donald Sloan, however, who in his return home, led the Pacers with 29 points on 10-14 shooting and five assists. Sloan was in a zone early, hitting his first six shots for a 13 point first quarter that would carry over throughout the game, with Sloan coming up for the Pacers at key points throughout the game.
While Sloan would be Indiana's leader, he got plenty of help throughout the night on a Pacers team that had seven double figure scorers, including Hibbert's starting replacement Ian Mahinmi. Mahinmi had his second consecutive double digit night, going 5-7 for 10 points with seven boards. Mahinmi came up with a big block late to not only keep Dallas from climbing within six, but to help mask a woeful free throw night.
Mahinmi was 0-6 from the line, all in the fourth quarter, as Dallas began to employ a Hack-a-Ian technique before Vogel opted to sit him outright, replacing him with Lavoy Allen, who in 20 minutes, cleaned up the glass with 10 rebounds, three offensive. Luis Scola was also a big factor for Indiana, coming up with his third double double of the season on 14 points and 11 rebounds, including a three pointer.
Solomon Hill also reached double figures with 12 points, helping Indiana in the third quarter with eight points. Off the bench, Damjan Rudez put in 11 points, shooting 4-5 and putting in a pair of threes. Rudez played surprisingly well, all despite his continued struggles to find his footing (literally) with the NBA three point line. Chris Copeland didn't have any trouble from deep, hitting a pair to help propel Indiana into an early lead as part of a 3-4 night from deep, but was also less frenetic at times when driving with the ball, making some better decisions.
While Hibbert was out, Indiana did see C.J. Miles return to action, as well as Rodney Stuckey, who fought through his sprained wrist to start for the Pacers. The two struggled from the floor at just 4-16, but both made positive impacts on the floor, combining for 18 points Indiana would've also struggled coming up with. Stuckey had five assists, with Miles making some stands defensively with a steal and a block.
The Pacers continue finding ways to respond to difficult losses, winning their fifth game in seven tries and moving to 6-8 on the season, putting Indiana back in the playoff picture temporarily. While the wins and losses may be a surprise at this point in the season with no returning starters from last year playing a single minute tonight, it becomes more and more difficult to wish for losses and search for pregame excuses when watching this team play. And not just play, but play well. And not just play well, but actually win games despite a sizable talent deficit.
Winning games like tonight are certainly rewarding, but it will be short lived with the San Antonio Spurs looming on Wednesday night. The Pacers that won in San Antonio last year won't be available for an encore, but even though the Pacers will be playing heavy underdogs yet again, they'll have every opportunity to make another stand and wrap up their Texas two-step on a positive note.