C.J. Miles was frustrated with the way the Indiana Pacers lost last night's game against Denver, saying he was sick of Indiana piling up missed opportunities in a number of their close losses. Certainly one thing the Pacers have struggled with is putting many of the players' experience in low scoring and close games to good use with solid play down the stretch.
Not even 24 hours after venting that frustration, Miles and the Pacers were given another opportunity to make right on those missed opportunities against the Minnesota Timberwolves, though perhaps not quite in the fashion they had hoped given how the game had taken shape early in the second half. The Pacers shot over 50% in the first half, building a 52-38 advantage, expanding it to 19 points at 61-42 in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
Out of a time out, Minnesota responded with a 17-1 run that cut the lead to three. Miles broke the run with a three pointer that helped Indiana maintain a 3-5 point advantage through most of the fourth quarter. Mo Williams scored nine straight Wolves points in the fourth to break Minnesota through into the lead at 92-91. Miles was in position again to put the Pacers back up front with a three pointer.
A pair of free throws from Gorgui Dieng tied the game again at 94-94 before David West broke the tie with 34 seconds with a running layup. An Andrew Wiggins turnover and Pacers free throws would help seal a 100-96 victory for the Pacers, who not only snapped an eight game losing streak on the road, but fought through what was dangerously close to a truly missed opportunity for the win.
It was in a big way the play of C.J. Miles that helped push Indiana into the win column, scoring 28 points on 10-18 shooting, including four three pointers. Not only was Miles in sync with his shooting tonight, but he scored on Indiana's final possessions in all four quarters, totaling 11 of his points, every one proving necessary with Williams and the Wolves pushing at every opportunity.
Miles, and the Pacers in general, brought an impressive amount of effort to the table tonight, a bloody lip on a specific scrum proving a trophy on a night the Pacers had to make up ground for coming up short in rebounding and free throw categories. The Pacers were outrebounded 43-26 and had 10 fewer free throw trips, but they created more opportunities off of turnovers, outscoring Minnesota 23-14.
Indiana got big contributions from their front line tonight. Roy Hibbert had eight first quarter points as part of his 15 point, eight rebound, four rebound night. If this were Hibbert's output every night; 6-11 shooting, solid work around the rim on both ends, there would be far less recourse against Hibbert's play. But after a good game, putting together a string of them is the next step, and he'll be tested as much as any player with New Orleans's front line looming.
David West also played well, scoring 14 points on 7-9 shooting, including a pair of big buckets in the game's final five minutes. West got a lot of time paired up front with Luis Scola, a combination that was a +6 for the Pacers in the second quarter when they pushed forward into double figures. Scola reached double figures with 10 points in 21 minutes of action.
Donald Sloan was the fifth Pacer in double figures with 10 points, playing wildly in both a positive and not-so-positive sense early in the fourth quarter, dribbling and directing the offense with seven assists. C.J. Watson returned to action after missing last night's game, scoring seven points. Solomon Hill was a mess early in action, turning it over four times on the night, but settled into a decent night with seven points.
The Pacers shot the ball well tonight, winding up at 50%, just their eighth game of the season at or above 50%, unsurprisingly also above .500 in the record column when doing so, posting a 5-3 record. It was also nice to get some shots to go in for a chance, especially after last night's abysmal shooting performance, which hasn't been much better on the season for the league's 29th best shooting team.
After seeing how beaten up the Pacers were for the loss they took on last night, getting right a day later with a win, especially the way they did so was a nice response. Of course, with all due respect to the Timberwolves, their own struggles this season hardly makes them a noteworthy win, but as was the case against the Lakers, Indiana is at least proving themselves capable of beating the teams they should beat.
At some level, being the best of the worst teams in the league has its merits, assuming of course it doesn't haunt them in regards to where things end up at the end of the season. For the time being, Indiana will have one more game before Christmas, a Tuesday showdown at home against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, which will prove a difficult task for a Pacers team that stands just 4-11 against the West on the season.