Despite having one of their best efforts of the season, the Indiana Pacers see no reward for their play, as their losing streak extends to four games with a road loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The constant whiffs against lottery teams now put the Pacers at 37-40 on the season, in need of help to stay alive in the postseason race. Fortunately for them, they received a rare gift with Miami losing at home, but they still sit in 9th place, now just one game above a suddenly surging Hornets team.
Five months of wasted opportunities have turned otherwise understandable losses like tonight’s into devastating ones. The Pacers went blow for blow with the defending champions in their place, but minor things like coaching rotations and questionable awareness caught up to them as the Cleveland Cavaliers caught fire to end the game.
The Pacers did well staying with Cleveland all night, but they appeared to be cooked when the Cavs jumped up by 14 on a 12-0 run early in the fourth. As Indiana did all night, however, they responded, chipping away and jumping ahead 104-102 with under 90 seconds left. Cleveland responded to tie the game at 104-104, and misses by both teams set up an overtime matchup.
In overtime, the Pacers once again lead by two with under 90 seconds remaining, leading 113-111. A shot clock violation on Monta Ellis and a huge steal by George where Myles Turner failed to recognize George on the outlet kept them from expanding the lead, as J.R. Smith drilled a difficult three pointer with two seconds remaining to give Cleveland the one point lead.
George was fouled on the ensuing possession, but split the free throws, setting up a 114-114 tie. The Pacers once again forced a big turnover, but George’s game winning three fell just shy, sending the game into a second overtime period. Once there, George exploded. He scored 13 points in the second overtime, including a pair of threes and a three point play, but Cleveland managed to score on eight straight possessions, keeping the scorching George from stealing the win.
The Pacers fell 135-130 by the time the dust settled, but in anything other than a playoff game, this would be a chance for the Pacers to see their tough and gritty effort as a positive. They shot exceptionally well from deep, George and C.J. Miles each had five threes, hitting 16 as a team, but the Cavs had 18. The Pacers had 12 offensive rebounds, but Cleveland had 15. Indiana hit 18 free throws, but the Cavaliers hit 23.
It was a game where Cleveland was just a little better than the Pacers and it brings Indiana one loss closer to not playing any games beyond the scheduled 82. In the end, the lack of awareness did not mix well with the questionable coaching rotations. In the overtime periods, Nate McMillan was fond of running with Monta Ellis, either with Miles or Thaddeus Young, two players who were crucial all night to keeping the Pacers alive.
Miles had 27 points off the bench while Young went 9-13 with 19 points, but it was Ellis, with seven points on 3-8 shooting, who played more minutes than both. The decision to not run with Ellis over Young meant Miles was on the bench for the crucial shot clock violation possession, in which George passed to Ellis at the three point arc. Miles’s gets a shot up, Ellis did not.
Ellis did have a fantastic follow early in the first overtime, but that wasn’t enough to justify him getting run over Young, who looked in early season form with his shot. His wrist clearly wasn’t holding him back, but it was Ellis flipping the ball towards the rim instead of Young. In the second overtime, Miles was tasked with guarding Kevin Love, a matchup that Miles was not capable of, as Love scored nine points in the second overtime.
McMillan moved Young into the lineup in place of Ellis with 2:35 remaining in the second overtime, with the game in full blown Paul George vs. every Cleveland Cavalier shootout. Also getting no minutes in the overtime period was Lance Stephenson, who made his Pacers re-debut tonight, bringing vintage fight and court vision to an Indiana team that seemed lifted by his energy.
Stephenson scored four points, had three assists, and three rebounds in 18 minutes, dishing out some vintage Lance assists, and getting both of his buckets at the rim. He was 2-7 from the floor, and appeared to be locked into a jawing contest with LeBron James. James predictably got the better of the matchup with his 41 point, 16 rebounds, 13 assist triple double, but also predictably, statistical gaps weren’t going to keep Stephenson from going to work against James, who hasn’t forgotten Stephenson in the least.
McMillan did however give Stephenson minutes with the starters in both his stints off the bench. There was obvious lack of familiarity there, but any starting lineup sans Ellis seems to work in Indiana’s favor, which could make Stephenson a prime candidate for an expedited promotion into the starting lineup, though taking away ball handling from Jeff Teague, who overcome a terrible start to finish with 17 points and 11 assists probably isn’t going to be in the best interest of Teague’s role with Indiana.
The most frustrating thing to take from this loss is the wasted effort from George, who was phenomenal, especially late. George scored 18 points in the overtime periods, 13 in the second overtime to score a season high 43 points. He neared a triple double of his own with nine rebounds and nine assists. Whether Stephenson or James can take the credit, the best of George was brought out in this game and it should theoretically give him and the Pacers a blueprint on how to attack the final five games of the season.
The burning question will be whether or not this effort will carry over in these final five games. The Pacers finally return home after taking on their 8th straight road loss, but will do so against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. Tonight’s energy will be enough to close the season strong, but their strong efforts haven’t carried over at any point this season, but maybe, just maybe, the Pacers will be lifted on a Lance Effect.