Indiana Pacers Surprisingly Successful In Texas
Two games against the West’s strongest, the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets, showed that the Indiana Pacers can compete with title contenders.
Rather than wilt under the pressure of the Rockets’ three-point barrage or the Spurs’ varied, fluid attack, the Pacers came away with a win and a loss. If not for a Kawhi Leonard game-winner, it could’ve been an even better week for Indiana.
After a rumor-filled All-Star break, the Pacers needed to solidify themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The team couldn’t come away with two massive wins in Texas.
Nonetheless, they played terrific ball in both and have to be feeling confident heading into the last stretch of the season.
On Monday, the Pacers took on the Rockets in Houston, a squad that was a sterling 22-7 at home heading into the game. Could the Pacers really match up with the hot-shooting Houston team led by James Harden and a bevy of three-point marksmen?
Indiana is in the middle of the league at 105.4 points per game. Houston is only behind the Golden State Warriors with a blistering average of 115.1 points per game. Moreover, Houston makes just less than 15 threes a game to Indiana’s abysmal, at least in this day and age, 8.4 a game.
It just didn’t seem like the Pacers could upset the Rockets on their home court. But they did just that, winning a thrilling game, 117-108. Indiana actually made more threes than Houston (13-10) despite the Rockets taking 15 more attempts from distance.
It was a cold night for head coach Mike D’Antoni’s team. Just two nights later, they’d shoot 20-of-52 (38.5 percent) from deep against the Clippers.
Outshooting the Rockets helped give the Pacers an advantage, but the real difference came in the rebounding margins and the defense. Indiana totaled 15 more rebounds than Houston and limited them to just 36.4 percent shooting from the field.
Throw in one of Jeff Teague‘s best performances in a Pacer uniform—25 points, eight rebounds and six assists—for good measure. Indiana simply had one of its strongest outings of the season. Even MVP contender James Harden was held to 5-of-17 shooting.
Following that big win in Houston, the Pacers took on San Antonio two nights later. For a long time now, the Texas road trip has been brutal for teams. Even with the Dallas Mavericks struggling, a quick stop to the state is never easy for Eastern Conference teams.
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The Spurs are again flying under the radar and quietly putting together another 60-win season. But, the Pacers gave them a fight and could’ve won the game had it ended just a few seconds earlier.
The stars of the night for Indiana this time around were Myles Turner and C.J. Miles. Turner scored 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go along with six rebounds and three steals. Miles drained four threes on his way to 19 points.
Teague came back down to earth—just seven points—after his showing against the Rockets. He did dish out nine assists, however.
What kept the Pacers in the game was a steady offense (45.7 percent from the field), opportunistic defense (13 steals) and again strong rebounding (11 offensive rebounds).
It was such a close game throughout that neither team outscored the other by more than four points in a quarter. It came down to the very end. Leonard buried the Pacers with a beautiful jumper over George for 100-99 win.
Kawhi Leonard’s gamewinning shot over his son, Paul George.
Kawhi: 31 pts/10rbds/11-22FG
PG: 19pts/6rbds/5-18FG pic.twitter.com/q0kRamnA9g
— Hooping Heaven (@HoopingHeaven) March 2, 2017
Indiana really was no match for him. Leonard hit the game-winning shot and was the only starter in double figures with 31 points. He hit three threes and grabbed 10 rebounds. He got to the foul line (6-for-6).
And he played his typically impressive defense on George (who finished with 22 points on a lackluster 5-for-18 from the field). With all the highlights from Harden and Russell Westbrook, it’s been easy to forget just how dominant Leonard can be.
Even with the close loss in San Antonio, there’s still a lot to be optimistic about in Indiana. When most teams face the Spurs and the Rockets in one week, it can be two blowout losses. The Indiana Pacers competed hard in both.
Their offense kept up with the high-flying Rockets and they nearly played the Spurs to a draw for four quarters.
Indiana doesn’t play again until Sunday at the Atlanta Hawks, but they have a rather easy schedule coming up afterward. Games against the Charlotte Hornets, the Detroit Pistons, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks are all winnable.
If they can play like they did in Texas, there’s no reason for the Indiana Pacers not to claim a mid-seed playoff spot.