The Indiana Pacers are my second favorite team. I love how they play the game. It certainly helps that George Hill is on their roster, but I also like the other connections the Pacers share with the Spurs.
Big giant-man Roy Hibbert trains with Tim Duncan in the off-season (though he needs to take one more page from Timmy's book, and quit running his mouth. I still like him, but when he says he wants to win Defensive Player of the Year, or proclaims in early December, that the Pacers and Blazers will meet in the Finals, it turns me off). Luis Scola was drafted by the Spurs, Jim Boylen and Jeff Ayres joined the Spurs from Indiana in the off-season. Like San Antonio, Indiana is a small market team that built their team through the draft and has managed its roster well. The Spurs and Pacers average draft pick among starters is 22nd and 20th, respectively. These two clubs play team basketball, and that is how the game should be played. So, I was really excited about this game. I wanted the Spurs to make a statement against the team with the best record in the NBA.
Unfortunately, the Pacers also wanted to make a statement.
The Spurs had everything working for the first 15 minutes of the game. The defense was good and the offense was successful against the vaunted Indiana defense. It seemed like the Spurs had a solution to the Pacers D, and the Pacers were the ones having trouble scoring. The Spurs then went cold for five minutes, and the Pacers cut a 13 point deficit into a one point lead with three minutes left in the half. Paul George then made his case for MVP, scoring 11 points in those three short minutes, and the Pacers took a 52-48 lead into the half.
It's currently very cold in Austin, Texas, and I took advantage of halftime to go outside to clear the ice off of my girlfriend's windshield, so I missed the first two minutes of the third, and when I came back to the game, the Pacers were enjoying a 14-point lead. The San Antonio defense was unable to get any stops, giving up 35 points in the quarter. Nothing was going right for the Spurs, and everything was going right for the Pacers. Indiana out-rebounded the Spurs, and everything dropped for them. After missing their first six three-point attempts, the Pacers ended up hitting 9-of-19 from deep for the game. Indiana was just too much for the Spurs, and they took a 22-point lead into the final period.
The Pacers increased their lead to 26 (106-80) with five minutes left in the game, and the Good Guys were in need of a miracle if they were going to pull this one out. They almost got it as the lineup of Cory Joseph, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Matt Bonner, and Aron Baynes put together a 15-0 run to cut the lead to 11 with a minute and a half left. Patty hit a three and the lead was just 10, but on the next possession C.J. Miles missed a layup and Luis Scola (to further remind Spurs fans that he never donned the Silver and Black) grabbed a big offensive rebound. It was highly unlikely that the Spurs could have come all the way back, but that rebound pretty much put the game away. Patty did steal Scola's pass after the board, and with the Spurs' last chance Mills took an open three instead of the open layup. I think that when you've just hit your last two threes, as Patty had, you've earned a right to shoot an open three with just a minute left in a 10 point game. But he missed it, and that was the end of this one.
For the first time this season, I'm a bit concerned about the Spurs. I still think they have what it takes to hang a banner, but as they continue to lose to good competition, I have more questions than confidence in the team. But it's a very long season, and I hope that the Spurs can put it all together when it actually matters. There are still 63 games before the second season starts.
For the opponents perspective, visit the always excellent Indy Cornrows.
- As Gregg Popovich pointed out, the Spurs allowed the Pacers to score 67 points in the second and third quarters. You just can't give up two quarters like that to a team as good as Indiana. It didn't help that the Spurs' offense could only muster 37 points in the same span.
- Paul George is an incredible basketball player. I've watched maybe 10 Pacers games so far, and he's been great all season. But against a very good Spurs defense, he showed how ready he was to play tonight. He finished with 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including a perfect 4-of-4 from deep. He also had four rebounds and six assists.
- David West. Man, he's been a thorn in the side of the Spurs for a long time. Tonight he put together one of his best performances against San Antonio. 20 points on 12 shots. eight rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks. He also didn't turn over the ball and finished with a +33 for the night.
- 53.5% - that is what the Pacers shot from the field tonight. If the Spurs want to beat a team that plays defense as well as Indiana, they are going to have to hold them to a poor offensive showing. The Spurs held them under 40% through the first 15 minutes of this one, so finishing the game at 53.5% shows just how hot they were through the rest of the game.
- Manu Ginobili was good tonight. Lamentably, the rest of the Spurs (minus Kawhi) couldn't get on the same page as the magician. Tonight, The Manu wasn't able to get his team going, but he continues to look good on the floor. He finished with 16 points on nine shots (which is excellent shooting considering the fact that he didn't get to the line once), didn't turn the ball over, and had a couple of pretty assists.
- Kawhi Leonard shot the ball well tonight, going 8-of-13 from the floor and 2-of-4 from distance. His defense wasn't perfect, but for the most part he was solid. I think this game will quiet all of the remaining comparisons with Paul George. Kawhi was good, and on the same level as PG on defense, but George is on another level offensively.
- Tiago Splitter was only able to play eight minutes in this one due to tightness in his calf. As much as I like Tiago, I don't think he would have made much of a difference tonight. I would have liked to see Hopefully the big man can get healthy soon.
- Frank Vogel has his team playing very, very good basketball. The Pacers are going to be hard for anyone to beat. Indiana finished with seven players in double figures for the game, including all of their starters. That reminds me of another team...