Just a little over 24 hours removed from an impressive come from behind victory over Charlotte, the Indiana Pacers found themselves in the opposite position, collapsing in the fourth quarter at home against the San Antonio Spurs. For all of their struggles on the season, the Pacers had a golden opportunity tonight to make up a win, but things came back on Indiana in a way they weren't prepared for, showing that the struggles of the Pacers still loom strong.
After a flurry of a first quarter where both teams scored at will, resulting in a 30-28 Spurs lead, the two teams plodded through the second quarter, scoring 17 apiece, putting the Pacers behind 47-45 at the break. Indiana closed the second quarter in a big way, overcoming a 10-point deficit to bring the game to two at the break. The score was favorable, but Indiana's shooting was not, sitting under 40% for the half.
In the third quarter, however, Indiana opened up in a big way. After three minutes, the Spurs had extended their lead by a point, as the Pacers would go onto outscore the Spurs 28-11 over the rest of the third quarter. The Pacers scored on eight straight possessions late in the third to push their way towards a commanding 14-point lead at 79-65, setting them up in good position heading into the fourth.
Once there, the Spurs opened up on a 10-4 run to trim the lead to eight, the Pacers only helped along by a pair of big buckets from Shayne Whittington. At the 5:35 mark, the Pacers extended the lead back to nine at 91-82 from C.J. Miles, but saw their lead diminish quickly behind a layup from Danny Green and a game changing three point play from Kawhi Leonard.
Suddenly Indiana's nine point lead dwindled to four, and then to two, and then tied at 91-91 with three minutes remaining. The game shifted in San Antonio's favor due to their increased effort. The Spurs began to crash the board harder, attack defensively, and the Pacers had little response, but maintained their lead when Rodney Stuckey put in a jumper to give Indiana a two point lead.
Indiana's ability to clean up the glass turned out to be their downfall, when Aron Baynes cleaned up an offensive board to tie the game, and a Tim Duncan board setting up Marco Belinelli for a step in jumper that would end up being the game winner with two seconds remaining. A game tying attempt from George Hill didn't go, as the Pacers fell to the Spurs 95-93, giving Spurs coach Gregg Popovich his 1,000th career victory.
The play of the fourth quarter, particularly the final 5:35 of the game, put Indiana in the loss column, but Indiana were given no favors when a C.J. Watson shooting foul from three was mistakenly ruled two shots and a fourth quarter technical on Frank Vogel was rather weak given Vogel's propensity towards technical fouls. Those didn't decide the game, but they were two points Indiana could've used back given the outcome of the night.
But having to chase two points shouldn't have come into play. Indiana put themselves in that position with 1-12 shooting to finish the game, where they outscored 13-2 down the stretch, turning the ball over three times and getting blocked twice at the rim. Three Spurs offensive rebounds in the final 5:35 led to six points, and a bad foul from Rodney Stuckey, who in an attempt to clear out Green, caught him to set up the game tying bucket.
Stuckey's defense to close the game, closing out hard on Belinelli and flying past him on the shot fake allowed Belinelli plenty of time to take a step in for the game winning bucket. As a whole, it was a woeful way for the Pacers to close the game. Could it be the second night of a back to back? What about the Spurs, in the same position? Regardless what caused the downfall, there was no excuse for the Pacers to not come away with that win.
The worst thing about the loss is that it casts a bit of doubt in Indiana's otherwise impressive string of what has now been four games. But had they held off the Spurs, would it have been simply that, an escape against a quality opponent, a sign of the team making strides on the season, or simply water finding its level in terms of close games, where Indiana had grabbed three straight wins decided within five points after starting just 5-11 through the first three months.
Despite some frustrating play late from Stuckey, he led the Pacers with 18 points, the only starter to shoot over 50% on the night at 7-13. David West was Indiana's biggest lift, especially on the boards, leading the Pacers with 18 boards and coming up with 10 second half points as part of his double double. The play of Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan at the rim defensively throughout the game was impressive, but Duncan came up with more plays, especially late with 15 points and five blocks to Hibbert's 10 points and two blocks (both on Duncan).
Shayne Whittington got play late in his nine minutes, scoring six points with four boards, three of them coming on the offensive end. Whittington has certainly been a solid piece for the Pacers in his spell for Lavoy Allen and Ian Mahinmi, though there are still some concerns with where he is as a rim protector. As it stands, however, there's little reason to not be pleased with where Whittington has been recently. The Pacers had six double figure scorers on the night, including 13 from C.J. Miles (though 1-7 from three), and a pair of double figure nights from Luis Scola (11) and Solomon Hill (10, including a pair of threes).
Indiana will have one more game before the All-Star break, hosting the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday. With Anthony Davis currently day-to-day with a shoulder injury, the Pacers aren't entirely sure what Pelicans team they'll be facing, but either way, if Indiana hopes to shift into the All-Star break with thoughts of the postseason, they'll need to rebound well from this loss and get themselves back in the win column heading into the week long break.