The Indiana Pacers could barely take note of their 6-4 start against the Cleveland Cavaliers when they glanced at the scoreboard and found themselves on the wrong side of a 22-0 run. Cleveland rolled over the Pacers with a purpose, leaving them dizzy and trailing 34-12 at the end of the first quarter.
The Pacers appeared woefully ill-equipped against a Cavaliers team looking to make a statement after a pair of embarrassing losses, forcing Indiana into six turnovers, leading to 11 points. In the second quarter, it was Al Jefferson who provided the Pacers with a much needed spark, scoring eight points on 4-4 shooting. Thaddeus Young also gave Indiana a boost, scoring eight of his 12 in the quarter, including a pair of three pointers.
Even despite the positives, the Pacers still struggled to make any headway, still trailing by 22 halfway through the quarter, but it was Darren Collison who teed off a big second half push, with Indiana outscoring Cleveland 15-9 in the final six minutes, Collison putting in eight.
The strong close to the half carried over in the form of an 11-0 run to start the third, started by a much needed three from Bojan Bogdanovic. Despite closing the gap to three, the Pacers struggled to get over the hump, with the Cavs gathering themselves with a 7-0 run to go back up 12.
It was then that a pair of LeBron James turnovers led to five quick points from Collison, putting the Pacers in a position where they could be guided by...Lance Stephenson! All right! Stephenson tied the game at 74-74 on a three pointer, broke out the air guitar, and put the Pacers in business.
Pacers erase 22-point deficit, Lance air guitar mode: engage. pic.twitter.com/fSdrHnB8zw— Lance Stevewobson (@World_Wide_Wob) January 13, 2018
Indiana turned the game in their favor in the same way Cleveland did early, by capitalizing off of turnovers, scoring seven in the third, leading to a 32-16 quarter and a 64-40 second and third, taking a 76-74 lead into the final period.
Once there, the fireworks began. With Stephenson in a groove and bringing the crowd into the game, he aimed for the summit, going straight at James. Stephenson’s peskiness sent the ball out of bounds, with James fuming and eventually shoving Stephenson on the inbounds, resulting in a rare technical foul.
Lance and LeBron mixing it up in Indiana. Again. pic.twitter.com/gFhmHBhuyw— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 13, 2018
The technical would prove to be a pivotal moment in the game, despite the immediate response from the Cavaliers pushing them into a five point lead, one they’d eventually extend to six with under four minutes to play at 95-89. Domantas Sabonis was big down the stretch for the Pacers, not only converting on all four of his free throw attempts, but sending away a crucial block on Tristan Thompson that led to Stephenson finishing on the other end to draw the game to within two at 95-93.
Victor Oladipo finished with 19 points, but did not have a great game, struggling from the floor at just 8-21. Even still, with the game on the line, Oladipo came through with a familiar shot: the go-ahead three with two minutes remaining in the game.
In the final two minutes, neither team could gain an advantage offensively, the clock working in Cleveland’s favor to hold the final possession with five seconds remaining. The Cavs got the switch they wanted on the inbounds, putting Collison on James, but in driving on the baseline, James stepped out of bounds, sending the ball the other direction.
Collison would be fouled on Indiana’s ensuing inbound, splitting a trip at the line. In the game’s final play, Kevin Love threw a beautiful pass to James who gunned for a fadeaway three reminiscent of his game-tying triple against Washington last season, but it went long, securing Indiana’s improbable 97-95 victory.
In the end, it was fitting that it came down to Stephenson’s ability to draw the technical on James that provided Indiana the point they were able to nurse late. Stephenson had a 16 point, 11 rebound double double, hitting three threes and providing the Pacers with the familiar spark that energized the team and the crowd.
He was joined with a double double by Sabonis, scoring 12 and pulling in 15 boards, finishing perfect at the line. Collison would lead all Pacers with 22 points, finishing 9-11 from the floor. As a team, the Pacers overcame their three point woes from Wednesday by hitting 10 to Cleveland’s seven. Young and Bogdanovic each hit two, including a 2-3 night from Bogdanovic.
The Pacers blew an opportunity against Miami, but overcame it tonight to move to 3-0 in the season series against Cleveland. The slow starts continue to be an issue, but the fight this team displays is nothing if not infectious when they’re able to knock down a couple of shots here and there.
Indiana finish their home stand 3-1, a successful stretch that will look to set them up for a long road trip out West. The Pacers will play their next five on the road, all against Western Conference teams, beginning Sunday when they face the Phoenix Suns for the first time this season.