For 30 minutes anyway, the Indiana Pacers went toe to toe with the San Antonio Spurs, leading 60-59 halfway through the third, but in the final 18 minutes of action, the gap between the teams became apparent, with the Spurs closing the third on a 20-10 run, and the Pacers were never able to gain enough control to put themselves back in the game.
The Pacers controlled the glass for much of the first three quarters, but the Spurs closed the gap quickly when it came to winning time. A 10+ rebounding edge ended up being just three for the Pacers. But it was the success on the offensive glass (13 boards) that allowed Indiana to not only stay in the game, but lead for stretches. Jordan Hill was fantastic on the glass, coming up with five of his nine boards on the offensive end, scoring 15 on the night.
The play of the bigs was solid for the most part. While Hill led the way in scoring, his play on the glass helped both Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi find their own success. The three combined for 11 of Indiana's 13 offensive boards, including four from Mahinmi, as he and Allen boh scored nine. There was good individual defense by the two as well, though as a whole, the interior defense was a wreck, with San Antonio slicing their way to 62 points in the paint.
George Hill played with a purpose tonight, scoring 15, including three three pointers, but didn't quite get the help he needed offensively from key guys. While Rodney Stuckey had a team high 16, C.J. Miles (nine points), Monta Ellis (six points), and Paul George (seven points) failed to give Indiana the extra gear they needed when the heart and hustle of those who got them to the third quarter ran thin.
While streaky play from Miles is expected and Ellis still struggles to show any semblance of the scoring knack he has made a living on in his career, it was the play of George that was the most frustrating. Even in their general mediocrity, Miles was very successful around the rim and Ellis had a couple of solid looks to go with six assists, but there was hardly anything from George on a night the Pacers needed him to have a shot late.
George was 1-14 from the floor, his only basket a three pointer. While he had seven rebounds and six assists with a pair of steals, he also had another terrible night with ball control, turning it over six times. George may have realized he didn't have his shot early, but made poor decisions in how to distribute the ball that resulted in the six TOs.
To cap it off, his assignment for much of the night, Kawhi Leonard, had a cool 24 on 10-19 shooting, rolling out of bed and coming up with six boards, five assists, and three steals, all with six less turnovers than George had. While it's not always fair to call out a player for a bad regular season game, this is the type of night the Pacers lean on George for, and he was wholly unreliable.
But aside from expecting a better overall night from George head-to-head against a player he's supposed to be in the same class, if not better than, there really wasn't much lost in this loss. There wasn't a high level of expectation that the Pacers were going to be the team to handed San Antonio their first home loss, and Indiana did manage to hold the fort down for a large portion of the game in hopes someone would show up to carry them late.
That's not to suggest this go down as a moral victory, but there is a difference between letting one slip away and simply being beat by a better team. The potential damage of the loss was minimized by the Pacers being part of an Eastern Conference playoff picture with as much inconsistency and question marks as they have. They slipped from third to fourth with the loss, when the tumble could've been much worse.
But minimizing the damage of tonight's loss will be key as Indiana heads back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for four of their next six at home. It starts with a home contest against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, a prime opportunity for the Pacers to stop their two game skid cold.