The Indiana Pacers narrowly escaped the Cleveland Cavaliers last night at Quicken Loans Arena, 82-78. Indiana jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead before hanging on in the fourth quarter to secure the win in a close finish down to the wire. It was a different type of game for the Pacers, who have shown a pattern of slow starts and furious finishes this season. Last night they started strongly, only to sputter down the stretch after building a sizable fourth quarter lead. Were it not for their usual stellar defensive presence, the outcome could have been much different.
The game was undoubtedly ugly to any west coast offense purist, with both teams shooting under 37 percent for the game, no player scoring over 21 points, and only 14 combined fast break points between both teams. Indiana managed to hold Cleveland, averaging 95 points per game, to under 80 points for the third time this season. Indiana leads the league in points allowed with 88.9 per game. But to quote Pacers head coach Frank Vogel about the win itself, he said in the postgame interview, “There were no style points tonight — none, zero. I can assure you of that. Unless you like defense.”
Indiana led by as much as 16 points in the fourth quarter, and then faced a furious effort from Cleveland led by Dion Waiters, and the blue and gold literally hung on for the win. Cleveland had several opportunities to take the lead with a little over three minutes remaining, but just could not execute. The defensive presence of the Pacers coupled with some untimely turnovers for the Cavaliers, ultimately decided the game.
The unique thing about this game was that Indiana squandered a large lead in the fourth quarter, something that has not happened this season to them thus far. Cleveland was shorthanded without the services of both point guards, Kyrie Irving (left knee contusion suffered at Indiana last week) and Jarrett Jack (lower back strain). Those absences may have contributed to Indiana’s lack of focus down the stretch as an adjustment was needed by the team.
All five starters for Indiana finished in double figures, led by Paul George with 16 points and six assists and Roy Hibbert, who had 15 points and six rebounds. Danny Granger led all players off the Indiana bench with 10 points in another strong performance since coming back shortly before Christmas from his leg injury. He is now averaging just under nine points per game off the bench in limited time since his return. On Indiana’s not-so-positive stat of the night, C.J. Watson went 0-6 from the floor and finished with four points in 22 minutes of play.
For Cleveland, C.J. Miles finished with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting and led all scorers on both teams. Another big contributor for Cleveland was Tristan Thompson who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The Cavs started undrafted Australian rookie Matthew Dellavedova at point guard and he played a career-high 41 minutes, contributing 11 points. But, due to the injuries, they just didn’t have enough floor presence in the closing minutes to overcome the hole they dug for themselves earlier in the quarter.
On their not-so-positive execution of the night, Cleveland called a play with less than 6.9 seconds remaining in which Earl Clark caught the ball and promptly stepped out of bounds, turning the ball over when they were trailing 81-78 and had a chance to tie with a three-pointer. The stranger part of the play was the fact that Cleveland burned two timeouts to set it up.
Indiana has now won two straight after getting mauled by the Toronto Raptors last week. They lead the Detroit Pistons by 12.5 games in the Central Division, by far the largest lead of any division leader in the NBA. The Pacers also continue to hold the best record in the NBA at 27-6, something they have held all but a handful of days this entire season.
The blue and gold are at it again on Tuesday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse to avenge that aforementioned loss against the Toronto Raptors. The same team that Miami pounded into submission last night with a dominate fourth quarter in American Airlines Arena, 102-97. Indiana lacked effort and energy in the Toronto loss last week, let’s hope that it does not repeat itself tomorrow.