At some point in tonight's game, the Indiana Pacers and their 106-100 loss to the San Antonio Spurs almost became a heartbreaking one. Though the score may not necessarily reflect it, Indiana did more than just hang tough with the Spurs; they led for over 26 minutes of game action, putting themselves in great position to not only compete, but possibly win.
But it's not a surprise the Spurs would find a way to close out a win against this particular Indiana team, one that let a fair share of opportunities slip through their grasp, with missed layups and wasted fast break opportunities keeping San Antonio within single digits all night and mounting free throw problems eventually helping to bury Indiana as the Spurs took control of the game late.
No more did wasted opportunities haunt the Pacers than leading 50-41, Luis Scola would whiff on a layup, sending the Spurs the other way, sparking a mini-run by the Spurs late in the first half to close the gap to within five. While it likely wouldn't have been a real difference maker in the long run, the play was something of a microcosm of tonight's game; Indiana would push, but the Spurs would linger, waiting for their chance to strike.
They looked to do just that when Manu Ginobili ran off a 7-0 run of his own to close the third, putting San Antonio up four, but C.J. Miles sunk in a buzzer beater to end the third, setting up Indiana for four straight three pointers, including a pair from A.J. Price, and an 87-81 lead. Indiana's lead would hold steady at 91-86 with 7:16 remaining, but the Spurs and their familiar Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Boris Diaw lineup would create a sense of urgency for the Spurs.
A heightened defensive effort for San Antonio opened up their offensive game, with them scoring the next 13 points, and 18 of the next 20 over the following five minutes to immediately undo all of Indiana's good will and hard work, eventually wrapping up with a 106-100 victory. While it was the fourth quarter run that put San Antonio into the win column, their effort throughout the second half was much more focused than in the first.
San Antonio shot over 60% in the second half while forcing 10 second half turnovers, playing tougher defense, and shutting down Indiana's rebounding and second chance opportunities. Though the Spurs had no issues with the game on the line, the Pacers were no stranger to self inflicted wounds. Aside from the easy bucket misses, Indiana was dreadful yet again from the free throw line, shooting 10-18, including three crucial misses from Miles and Rodney Stuckey early in the fourth that could've put a greater level of heat on the Spurs.
In that sense, it's frustrating the Pacers lost; without Roy Hibbert for a second straight game, they continued to play through their own misfortunes to force the Spurs to show their hand and make their talent advantage decide the outcome of tonight's game. The effort from the Pacers was spot on, especially in the first half, with impressive defense creating opportunities for Indiana to keep San Antonio in the rearview for stretches in tonight's game.
That talent gap did prove the difference in tonight's game, with San Antonio's big four all shooting at or above 50%. For Indiana, their best scorer was Rodney Stuckey, who put up a season high 22 points, but needed 20 shots to get there. In fact, only one of Indiana's five double digit scorers shot above 50%, A.J. Price with 11 on 4-7 shooting with three three pointers. Price's second 10 day contract will expire on Friday, and with David West a potential return on Friday, tonight may be the last Pacers fans see of Price in his familiar #12 jersey.
Solomon Hill didn't do much to prevent Kawhi Leonard from taking control of tonight's action, but Hill did do a solid job of making Marco Belinelli pay on defense, as Hill scored 10. Luis Scola was Indiana's second leading scorer with 13 points, occasionally looking out of sync with the Pacers, but still offering up just enough to keep him within the game.
Chris Copeland also limited his mistakes, though some defensive flubs cropped up, Copeland scored 12 points, including a pair of threes. Damjan Rudez is also finding some range, hitting a pair of threes. Indiana's explosion from deep in the third was queued up by C.J. Miles, who continues to struggle finding a role. Ian Mahinmi hasn't struggled finding a role himself, however, coming close to his third double figure game, scoring eight on 4-5 shooting and making some key defensive plays against Tim Duncan and the Spurs frontline.
Indiana will return home for their annual post-Thanksgiving home game, hosting the Orlando Magic on Friday night. The Pacers haven't been expected to win many games, but this will likely be one of those games. With Indiana's effort and potential season debut of West, it will be interesting to see how Indiana responds to expectations in a season they're showing up for without any.