The Indiana Pacers mounted a furious fourth quarter comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers, but fell short in the final two minutes to suffer their sixth straight loss. The Pacers trailed 82-62 with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter, getting their best fourth quarter of the season in working their way to within two at 98-96. But five late points from Jamal Crawford, as part of his 18 off the bench did just enough to keep the Pacers at bay, as Indiana fell 103-96.
The Pacers had to overcome not one double digit deficit tonight, but two. A slow start to the first put Indiana in a 15 point hole with an eerily similar event taking place in the third quarter. Indiana's starting lineup hasn't offered up much in the way of a spark for the Pacers in recent games and tonight was an exemplification of that with all five starters posting a -20 or worse in the +/- category.
That continues to include Indiana's two best players David West and Roy Hibbert. Hibbert played just 12 minutes in tonight's game, picking up two fouls in the first quarter and then a fourth early in the third to force him out of action for the remainder of the night. Hibbert had four points and three rebounds, which was still better in 12 minutes than West's night of two points and three boards on 1-7 shooting.
Indiana got two double figure scorers from their starting unit with Rodney Stuckey and Chris Copeland each scoring 10. They combined for 2/3's of Indiana's starting lineup's scoring total of 30 points. That left the bench unit to do the heavy lifting, scoring 66 on the night, spurring not only the fourth quarter comeback, but Indiana's second quarter comeback as well, when they turned the 15 point deficit into a brief 45-44 advantage in the second quarter.
Most of the comeback effort was due in a big way to C.J. Miles, who after dropping 15 points in the fourth quarter against the Hawks, stayed hot tonight, scoring a season high 30 points on 11-22 shooting, including seven three pointers. Miles was Indiana's first twenty point scorer since November 26. Miles wasn't without some mistakes with four turnovers, but made the most of his looks tonight as he hopefully begins to move his season in a positive direction.
While a 20-point scorer isn't the difference between wins and losses, for a team like the Pacers who have to rely on contributions by committee, any offensive contribution that can take the weight from the rest of the team is going to help at least put Indiana in positions to compete late in games. Indiana lost tonight and against San Antonio (when Stuckey scored 22), but the scoring output of Stuckey and Miles helped put Indiana in that position to compete late against two top tier teams.
And really, that's about the best case scenario for this Indiana team in games like tonight's, even if like tonight's game, they fail to come up with any points in the final two minutes despite the play of the bench. The bench play extended not only through Miles, but through C.J. Watson, who was big in the fourth quarter, with four points and four assists in Indiana's comeback effort, scoring eight points and dishing seven assists on the night.
As Watson helped the offensive flow, it was the hustle play of Luis Scola and Lavoy Allen that really proved a key advantage for the Pacers in leading their bench to the two comebacks. Each put up big double double nights, Scola scoring 12 points and grabbing 13 rebounds with Allen putting up 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Allen's lack of size as a backup five will provide its own disadvantages for as long as Indiana is without Ian Mahinmi, but Allen is more than capable of covering up those deficiencies with play like tonight, where great positioning set him up for six offensive rebounds, all in the second half and leading to six second chance points for Indiana.
Scola on the other hand is playing at a level Indiana could've desperately used last season. Scola's 13 rebounds are a Pacers career high, and his effort on defense caused panic for the Clippers on multiple occasions. While Scola's time with the Pacers may not be long for the remainder of the season, he's proving himself the valuable bench cog Indiana had hoped to have last season.
But as well as the second unit played to give Indiana a chance to win, it resulted in another loss for the Pacers, who pick up their second six game losing streak of the season, falling to 7-15, matching their worst mark since 2008. Indiana will have another tough pair of a games on a Friday/Saturday back-to-back starting with the East leading Toronto Raptors in Canada. Despite sitting at 16-6, the Raptors are without DeMar DeRozan for the foreseeable future as the Pacers look to avoid their first seven game losing streak since 2009.