For an Indiana Pacers team that can't seem to find their way into the win column, the opportunities didn't seem ease up when they traveled to Texas to face the Houston Rockets. Indiana limped in to their late afternoon game on a four game losing streak, a snake bitten inability to close out games looming over their recent struggles.
Houston started things off on the right foot with a 17-4 run, but while the Pacers looked out matched behind three opening three pointers, they kept Houston from opening the game further, closing the gap to eight by the end of the quarter. In the second, the Pacers' bench lifted Indiana back into the game with a 9-0 second quarter run from C.J. Miles and Donald Sloan to bring the Pacers to within a point.
Jason Terry scored seven in Houston's responding 12-0 run to push the lead back to 13. Indiana closed the final two minutes strong, outscoring Houston 5-2, trailing 55-45 at the break. In the third quarter, it turned into the James Harden show. Harden scored 18 of his season high 45 in the third quarter, including four three pointers (and one three free throw trip). Harden's play lifted Houston to a 34-23 quarter, pushing their lead to 21 after three.
The Pacers bench gave the Pacers one last gasp, a 9-0 run early in the fourth pulling them to within 14, working towards closing the game to within as few as eight as the game wound down, but costly turnovers and a heavy dose of Harden would prevent Indiana from overcoming the nightly deficit, falling 110-98 for their fifth straight loss.
Indiana played much better than recent outings, but against a far superior opponent, it was difficult to expect much else from the Pacers, even with the kind of solid outing they had this afternoon. James Harden was clearly a big difference maker for the Rockets tonight, leading Houston in scoring with 45 points. Indiana's recent struggles in containing a scorching guard came back in a big way in this game.
Harden was 12-18 from the floor and 7-12 from three point range on a night the Rockets shot over 50% and hit 12 three pointers. Harden also scored as many points from the line as the entire Pacers team did. Houston outscored Indiana from the line 24-14 and hit twice as many three pointers. The differences in those areas helped make up the difference in a night the Pacers and Rockets played close to a wash in other areas.
The Pacers and Rockets each had 19 turnovers, each leading to 23 points for the opponents. For Indiana, they lack the margin for error or the scoring weight of a Harden-caliber player to get by with as many bad passes they had tonight, even if the Rockets themselves had just as many. C.J. Miles led the way for the Pacers with 23 points off the bench, on a night the Pacers bench largely outplayed Houston's.
Indiana's top two scorers, Miles and Donald Sloan, were key pieces in Indiana's comebacks throughout the game, helped along by a huge rebounding night from Ian Mahinmi, who had 14 (six offensive) to go along with a near double double at nine points. Sloan had 17 on 7-11 shooting and Miles broke out of his funk with four of Indiana's six three pointers.
The starting unit had their struggles, but got solid scoring outputs from Roy Hibbert (12) and Solomon Hill (13). After an 0-1 night on Wednesday, Hill took on a bigger role in the offense, shooting 4-10 and getting to the line four times, picking up a pair of steals along the way. Hill went just 1-6 from three point range. Hibbert shot well at 6-10, helping to limit the overall effectiveness of Dwight Howard offensively, who had 14 on 4-6 shooting.
Despite the loss, there were more positives from the Pacers to point to than in recent games, and that will be key to build on if they hope to stop this losing streak at five. Of course, that will be a tall order with a road trip to Atlanta to face the Hawks on Wednesday. Not only does Indiana historically struggle in Philips Arena, but they'll be facing a Hawks team riding a 13-game winning streak and posting a 27-2 record since the end of November as the top team in the Eastern Conference.