Since coming out of the All-Star Break with back-to-back wins, the Indiana Pacers have struggled with consistency, going just 3-5 since, failing to come away with two in a row in those eight games. After a last second W over Washington on Saturday, the Pacers were faced with one of the toughest tasks in the league in getting that second straight win, facing the San Antonio Spurs at home.
But the Pacers came through in a big way to make sure they came up with that win in tonight's game. A quick 4-0 start by the Spurs gave way to 14-0 Pacers run, giving Indiana a double figure lead they held in check most of the night. The Spurs were ice cold shooting early, but the Pacers made things more difficult for San Antonio, holding the Spurs to 32 first half points.
The Pacers were there to respond to every Spurs run in the second half with timely buckets keeping their double figure cushion safe until the late stages of the fourth. The Pacers went up 16(!) on a Solomon Hill three pointer(!!) with just under 10 minutes left in the game, though it didn't take long for that lead to be put in jeopardy thanks to a quick 8-0 Spurs run.
The Spurs would continue to chip away at the lead despite some key buckets from Paul George and Monta Ellis, making it a three point game with 1:55 remaining and again with 1:12 remaining. Given Indiana's season long history of choking away fourth quarter leads, seeing another one evaporate would hardly come as a surprise, but the superb effort from Ellis would push the lead to five, and a costly mistake on a foul attempt would allow George to all but seal the win on a three point play.
Indiana eventually came away with a 99-91 victory, their first home win against San Antonio since 2007, but for Indiana, a key second straight win that keeps them a game up on 8th place Chicago. The Pacers win tonight remains an impressive one even still, a near wire-to-wire victory against the league's elite is one thing, however the way they did it; by capitalizing on what was by all means an off-night for the Spurs with a superior effort on their own.
Despite being third in the league in defensive rating, the Pacers haven't always looked the part of an elite defensive team, though a 35% shooting night for the Spurs with seven blocks and a knack for 50/50 plays definitely went in Indiana's favor tonight. The Spurs did their fair share of missing en route to a Pacers-esque 4-28 night from behind the arc, but Indiana did a great job minimizing the amount of good looks the Spurs had.
Monta Ellis has always been a thorn in the side of the Spurs, playing the part again tonight with a big second half, scoring a game high 26 points, 21 of those in the second half. Ellis was 8-13 from the field, working his way to the line on an 8-8 night as the Pacers were an impressive 28-30 from the line, building on their fantastic shooting against the Wizards.
Paul George played a far better game than his last outing against San Antonio, scoring 23 points, including the first seven for Indiana in the first. George was just 7-20, but made key shots when it counted, including the crucial game sealing and one in the final seconds, hitting all seven of his free throws. George also did a fantastic job defensively to limit the effectiveness of Kawhi Leonard, who as one of two 23-point scorers for the Spurs shot under 40% himself at 9-23.
Rodney Stuckey was the boost off the bench the Pacers needed tonight, scoring 12 points, all of those coming in the first 16 minutes of game action. Indiana had some good rebounding nights from their bigs as Myles Turner pulled in 10 while Ian Mahinmi fell short of a double double with 11 points and nine rebounds. George Hill also had 10 rebounds. Unfortunately for Indiana, they did struggle rebounding, nearly costing them the game down the stretch.
The Spurs had 18 offensive rebounds that led to 18 extra shots from their enormous number of misses, and key second chance opportunities helped San Antonio into a good position down the stretch. But despite the staggering number, the Spurs had just 13 second chance points, six coming in the fourth quarter. It was the only stat that went in favor of San Antonio, and it came close to being the only stat they needed.
In the end, the Pacers continue to show they can not only play with anybody, but showed tonight that they can also beat anybody on any given night. However, that lack of consistency in completing the latter is one of the reasons the Pacers looked to bring in Ty Lawson, who showed flashes in his brief opening night with the blue and gold. Lawson had a pair of assists and a key save in just five minutes of action before turning his ankle and failing to return.
The four day layoff before the Pacers hit the road against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday can hopefully be enough to get Lawson back in the lineup, but his fantastic assist to an wide open Stuckey three pointer and the save were key plays in what wound up being a tight game. If Lawson can swing games in a positive direction, the Pacers could see themselves with just the boost they need to become a dangerous team in a wide open (non-Cleveland part of the) Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Still, there's a long way to go, though this four day layoff will hopefully get Indiana some much needed rest after a very busy stretch these past 10 days, refresh their mind, and prepare them for a difficult road back-to-back against Dallas on Saturday and the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.