After totaling three wins against winning teams through the first three months of the season, it's still surprising how much the Indiana Pacers have come together, putting together three wins against winning teams in the month of February alone, continuing their solid play of late with a win over the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors were short Stephen Curry tonight with an ankle, but it was Indiana's own ankle injury that lifted the Pacers into the win column.
Rodney Stuckey was true to his words from Friday after suffering from an ankle injury late in Indiana's win over Philadelphia, saying he just needed to work on it and he'd be ready to go for Sunday. Even appearing to aggravate it late in the first quarter, he managed to remain in the game, leading Indiana with his second straight 30-point performance.
Stuckey was a reliable option all night, but a huge three point to end the third quarter broke a 78-78 tie and a pair of big shots late broke dangerous momentum the Warriors had built up in the fourth quarter, putting the Pacers in the lead for good. Stuckey was 11-17 from the floor, hitting a pair of threes and leading Indiana at the line, going 6-7. Not only was Stuckey leading Indiana offensively, but he didn't fade defensively, challenging passes and taking up the task of guarding Klay Thompson, who still wound up with 39, but at a 12-28 volume clip.
Thompson proved a real threat to the Pacers, especially early, scoring 13 points in the first quarter as Golden State throttled Indiana to the tune of 38 points. The Pacers responded in a big way in the second quarter, however, outscoring the Warriors 32-19 to take the halftime lead, eventually going on to win the third and fourth quarters as the Pacers would end up defeating the Warriors 104-98.
Winning the quarters proved difficult for the Pacers, who despite playing very well offensively, had a pair of bad droughts in the second half. The Pacers took five minutes to score in the third quarter, but gave up just six points in those five minutes, keeping the game a manageable five points.
Indiana had a similar stretch in the fourth quarter while leading 89-82. Across the middle part of the quarter, Indiana gave up an 8-0 run that put the Warriors on top 90-89 with five minutes remaining. Indiana shot 48.1% on the night, but missed four shots in that stretch, one where the Warriors appeared to be keyed in defensively, forcing three turnovers on the Pacers as they took the lead.
The play of the Indiana bench even aside from Stuckey was the boost Indiana needed when foul trouble struck Indiana early. The Pacers' reserves scored 63 points on the night, shifting the game in the second quarter. The Warriors controlled the boards early, which helped them put up 38 first quarter points, but despite struggling on the offensive glass (a 13-7 Warriors advantage), the Pacers closed the rebounding gap and wound up winning 46-45, helped by the Warriors shooting under 40% on the night.
C.J. Watson had 14 points and five assists off the bench, giving Indiana 4-6 shooting and six trip to the line. Luis Scola was in a crafty move, scoring 11 points on 5-8 shooting, pulling in eight rebounds. While Damjan Rudez and Ian Mahinmi only had four apiece, they each helped the Pacers with Rudez going 2-2 and Mahinmi pulling in seven boards, including a big dunk that put Indiana ahead 89-82 in the fourth.
The foul trouble to George Hill, Solomon Hill, and Roy Hibbert limited their overall effectiveness, but G. Hill scored 12, shooting 4-13, but 2-3 from three point range, including a crucial three he stuck in with just over two minutes remaining that put Indiana ahead three. Hibbert had eight, four at the line, and while David West had just four, he hit a key bucket late to put the heat on the Warriors after their 8-0 run, pulling in eight rebounds on the night.
The Pacers move to 23-33 as the race for the (7th and) 8th seed tightens up. Detroit were winners earlier and Charlotte fell, putting both Indiana and Detroit within a half a game of the 8th seed, currently held by Brooklyn. The Pacers are 6-1 in their last seven and 7-3 over their last 10. In that stretch, they're 7-0 when they reach 100 points, showing what their offense has offered, including a 21.8 average from Stuckey.
Indiana will head on the road to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, who despite being short Kevin Durant, have run off six straight to put them firmly within the Western Conference playoff picture. The Pacers will likely need another big performance from Stuckey (or anyone) to keep up with what will no doubt be a heavy dosage of Russell Westbrook, though that's far from their only option.