That was close. After opening the game on fire and opening up a 20-point lead, the Pacers allowed the streaky Warriors to bomb their way back into the game, but in the end managed to hold on to a 102-94 win thanks to some fortuitous misses and lucky shots. The win is the Pacers' fifth straight, and coupled with the Heat's loss to the Hawks tonight, gives the 33-7 NBA leaders a comfortable 4.5 lead over the defending champs.
Led by a red hot Paul George, who was held scoreless the last time he played in Golden State (which was the turning point of his Most Improved Player-winning season last year), the Pacers jumped out to a 35-21 lead at the end of the first quarter. It was inevitable, however, that the shooting percentages would eventually come down to earth and for Steph Curry to start making shots, and as expected, the Warriors came storming back in the second half with a much more spirited defensive effort.
The Pacers' size, however, allowed them to control the boards and limited second chance opportunities, which enabled them to hold onto the lead. Every time the Warriors looked like they were about to turn the tables, the Pacers came up with a big offensive putback or a great stop on the defensive end to keep them at bay. Still, it was sweaty palms in the fourth quarter as Steph Curry kept drilling tough jumpers, shrinking the lead down to just 3 with 4 minutes to go.
The Pacers regrouped from there and were lucky to hit some big threes — one by Lance Stephenson and another by George Hill — with the clock winding down. Curry also cooled down and missed a few down the stretch, including an off balance three that could have cut the lead to a single point with 15 seconds to go. Instead, he missed badly and ended up fouling Paul George on the rebound. George calmly sank the freebies to keep the lead at 6 and effectively iced the game.
All five Pacers starters finished in double figures. Paul George had 23, David West had 17, George Hill had 15 and Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson had 14 apiece. No one scored more than 6 points off the bench, but the reserves had a solid impact on the game, in particular Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi, as they took advantage of their inside games against the small ball Warriors.
I knew the Warriors would make a run, but credit to the Pacers' defense for clamping them down. Roy Hibbert only had 2 blocks, but his 7'2" presence forced about a zillion missed shots in the lane for the opposition, and channeling the Warriors' offense towards the perimeter. There, George Hill did a phenomenal job on Steph Curry and Paul George did likewise against Klay Thompson, while David West bodied up David Lee to make life difficult for him down on the block. Just a great team effort, the stuff championship teams are made of.
The Pacers next head to Phoenix, where they will face former teammates Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee on Wednesday.