The Indiana Pacers found out earlier in the day that the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to be short Kyrie Irving for their matchup that evening to a shoulder strain, but found out much closer to game time that Cavaliers coach David Blatt opted to sit LeBron James for rest purposes. The Cavs being without their two All-Stars is worth noting, though having them didn't make much difference in the outcome of the last meeting between the two teams.
Cleveland didn't show any signs of missing those two early, scorching earth to jump all over the Pacers with a 21-8 lead at the halfway. J.R. Smith contributed to three from three point range as Cleveland hit five of eight from deep to build their lead. But the Pacers responded to the start by responding with an 11-2 run, holding the Cavs to 1-8 from the field and forcing four turnovers.
The Cavaliers closed with five straight points to put the Pacers down nine heading into the second. They'd manage to close that gap throughout the quarter, taking a brief lead before falling behind again. The Pacers would push themselves ahead for good late in the second, using a 12-3 run to put Indiana ahead 51-45 at the break. The Pacers opened up offensively in the second to level the scoreboard, outscoring Cleveland 32-17.
Rodney Stuckey was a big part of Indiana's success in the second quarter, scoring 12 of his 14 first half points in the quarter. In the third, Iman Shumpert kept Cleveland within swinging distance, but Indiana used a 15-4 run to blow the lead up to 15 late in the third. The Pacers would lead 74-61 at the end of three, outscoring the Cavs 23-16 in the third quarte.
Shumpert had 10 of his 14 in the quarter, but more importantly for the Pacers, was the only Cavalier to reach the scoreboard in the final 8:33 of the third. This allowed Indiana to push their lead without much threat from anyone else, as the Pacers put the clamp on Cleveland in the middle two quarters, outscoring them 55-33 to build the double figure lead heading into the fourth.
In the fourth, the Pacers fell cold, but managed to push their lead back to 15 in the quarter before the Cavaliers ran off an 11-0 run to cut the lead to just four. Stuckey stopped Indiana's scoring drought with a big three, but Smith hit his fourth three of the night as a response to keep the game at four. On the following play, David West saved a loose ball out of bounds and recovered for a big jumper to push the Pacers up by six with 39 seconds remaining.
The West bucket would prove the dagger as the Pacers would seal the game at the free throw line, defeating the Cavaliers for the second straight time by the final of 93-86. The Pacers held Cleveland to 35.9% with only Tristan Thompson posting an above 50% shooting night at 3-4. Without their two best players, the Cavs were forced to rely on their role players, and the result wasn't pretty.
After his hot start, J.R. Smith finished up with a team high 21 points on 7-17 shooting. Iman Shumpert also went 7-17, scoring 14. Matthew Delladedova went just 5-18 as part of a 14 point, 10 rebound double double, but most of all, it was the disappointing play of Kevin Love (6-19, 17 points, 10 rebounds) that hurt Cleveland the most. In a game that was tailor made for him to take over, Love looked less like a member of Cleveland's "big three" and instead one of their many role players.
The Pacers managed to come up with enough plays to put themselves in the win column, but had their own issues allowing second chance opportunities to Cleveland, who had 14 offensive boards, winning the rebound battle. The Pacers also struggled from the line at 19-29, but most of that came from Ian Mahinmi, who continues to get in his own way at the line, going a dreadful 1-9, erasing a lot of positives he had in his seven point, nine rebound night.
The positives for the Pacers included a rare 15-0 advantage in fast break points, and committing just eight turnovers. As well, the Pacers were led on the night by George Hill, who notched his first career triple-double, coming on strong with his all around game to finish with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. Hill shot the ball poorly, going just 4-15 (0-5 from three), but with a pair of steals to add to his night, was a real key in Indiana's success on the night, including a number of sharp passes that helped him towards his 12 assist night.
Rodney Stuckey led Indiana with 19 points, including 14 in the first half, swinging the game in Indiana's favor in the second quarter. He was 8-16 on the night, including a lot of fourth quarter misses, playing well against Cleveland on the defensive end to help limit their effectiveness. The Pacers were just 6-17 from three point range, but Stuckey was 3-5, continuing his shocking three point shooting.
C.J. Miles had two more of Indiana's threes as he scored 13 for the Pacers on 4-7 (Damjan Rudez had the sixth three). David West was the fourth Pacer to reach double figures with 12 points. West had six rebounds to go along with his 12 points, but after contributing to Cleveland's run with some slow defensive play, he salvaged his night with his hustle in saving an out of bounds play and hitting the dagger jumper.
The win moves Indiana to 24-34, as they open their latest home stand with a win. The Pacers will play seven of their next eight at home, and with how things broke tonight around the Eastern Conference, can put themselves firmly in the driver's seat in claiming one of the East's playoff spots. Of the six teams fighting for the final two playoff spots, only two, Indiana and Boston, came away with wins tonight.
That includes losses by Miami, Charlotte (to Boston), Brooklyn, and Detroit. All of those losses allowed Indiana to springboard into the 8th playoff spot, a game and a half behind Miami for seventh. The Pacers will host the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, who grabbed a win over the fading Wizards, as the Pacers should look to use Detroit's double overtime loss to New York as a cautionary tale towards taking advantage of the opportunities in front of them if they hope to make a playoff push in the season's final six weeks.