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Warriors play small ball better than Pacers, improve to 23-0

Indiana's attempt to imitate shows they aren't quite there yet

POSTED: Dec 9, 2015 12:08 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Warriors vs. Pacers

Klay Thompson scores 39 points, including 10 3-pointers, as the Warriors defeat the Paces 131-123.

— That sincerest form of flattery is, in the end, imitation, and the Golden State Warriors remain undeterred that original is the only way to go.

"They have a very high chemistry with that group," Warriors guard Steph Curry told late Tuesday, after his team fended off the Indiana Pacers attempt to flatter, if not flatten, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Golden State extended its league-record unbeaten streak to start the season to 23-0.

"With most teams, it's brand new. Or it's something that, other games, they don't try. What we have, with teams that have to mix up their style of play from game to game, it's tough to really execute it. Every night, we throw that small lineup out there. We're stretching the game no matter who we play. Because we know it's effective for us. ... It's tough to be better [at it] than us."

Perhaps more than any of the NBA's other 29 teams, the Pacers went all-in on Warriors Lite over the summer, eschewing the smash-mouth basketball built on defense and traditional (now departed) bigs Roy Hibbert and David West that had served them so well (consecutive Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014).

The follow-the-leader move in this copycat league had splendid results as Indiana surprised almost everyone, opening a 12-5 record behind lithe and lethal "power forward" Paul George's ascendant play in a newly lubricated offense.

Postgame: Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson discusses his 39-point outburst in tonight's win over Indiana before leaving the game with an injury.

Still, the Pacers have had about 10 weeks together to convert to a style of play Golden State has made its own across multiple seasons and the 2015 NBA championship. One team Tuesday had training wheels, the other had rings. In a showdown of Warriors Lite vs. Warriors, the real deal prevailed.

"You can't just throw out [five] small guys and expect it to click," Curry said. "You've got to have the right personnel that gels. Obviously for us, it didn't happen for us right away. We've been doing this for a while, three or four years."

Pacers coach Frank Vogel knew coming in his team was lagging in its life cycle.

"The way I look at it, we're trying to create some of the things that they do," Vogel said before tipoff. "Because it's fun, first and foremost. And it wins. They're light years ahead of us in all of the executions. On both sides of the ball. With their switching game, their run protection, their open-court game. How they use the 3-point line to set up basket attacks and rolls to the basket.

"And as much as they hit contested [3-pointers] and stuff, we're trying to take away the open rim [2-pointers] they get on drives and rolls and cuts, and the open [3-pointers] they get by creating help situations."

Curry's 29 Points

Highlights from Stephen Curry as he scores 29 points in the Warriors win over the Pacers.

Light years Tuesday calculated to a 109-77 gap late in the third quarter. Anything Indiana did through three, Golden State did better. The Pacers hit 10-of-23 shots from the arc? The Warriors were 14-of-28. The Pacers' 29-of-70 shooting? The Warriors were 44-of-71. George had 27 of his eventual 33 points? Klay Thompson already had 39, missing just four of his 3-point attempts and five of 18 overall.

Home after their own four-game trip and catching Golden State five games deep into its seven-gamer, the Pacers led 21-15 midway through the first quarter, more than matching the Warriors in a dizzy, defense-and-shot-clocks-optional start.

The champs then scored the games next 22 points to seize control for the next two-plus quarters.

By the fourth, Golden State's starters looked to be clocked out for the night. The Pacers plugged on, subs vs. subs, until they got within 16 points with 5:49 to go and interim Warriors coach Luke Walton sent back Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green. These days, the way Golden State is going, that's moral-victory territory for their imminent victims on any given night.

"The first three quarters were amazing," Green said. "The last quarter was just ridiculous. We lost our focus."

Curry (six) and Green (four) scored their team's final 10 points. Thompson sprained his right ankle, though X-rays were negative and he guessed he would be playing again "in no time."

The last quarter was just ridiculous. We lost our focus.

– Draymond Green

The Pacers knock-knock-knocked the deficit down to 11, then 9, then finally six points but were burning clock, too. Green, with a technical foul, and Curry, by missing two of four free throws in the final minute, added a little drama. And Indiana, while reaching for a reasonable facsimile of Golden State's two-end assault style, still wasn't capable of generating enough scoring with either their offense or their defense as the seconds dwindled away.

The originals won a championship last spring ranking at or near the top on both ends of the floor. The imitators Tuesday were so eager to score like the Warriors, they defended nothing like them. "We just gave up points way too fast," said George.

And so it goes, the Warriors pushing their streak to 23, the Pacers failing to answer the league's prevailing, plaintive question ("Can someone, anyone, stop these guys?!"). The Celtics get their turn in the tank next, Friday night in Boston. Then it's Milwaukee, followed by three more tests until the Christmas clash against Finals foe Cleveland.

The Warriors are playing for scoreboard points, not style points, but so far they're winning that completion too. Against tribute bands, counter-programmers, you name it.

"It depends on what you need," Curry said. "It was a case-by-case situation last year in the playoffs. Against New Orleans, we played big for half the series and small for the other half. We need that defensive presence against certain guys. But at any moment we can pull out the small lineup and hopefully throw a wrinkle in the game to get it to our pace, which we like.

"Against Memphis, we needed that big lineup initially because to kind of give a front, and then we changed it up on them. So we want to keep teams guessing."

They've guessed wrong nearly two dozen times.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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