Spurs vs. Pacers
Monta Ellis goes off for 26 points with 3 assists as the Pacers beat the Spurs 99-91 on Monday night.
Monta Ellis goes off for 26 points with 3 assists as the Pacers beat the Spurs 99-91 on Monday night.
March 7, 2016 - The Indiana Pacers had one of their best performances of the entire season Monday night, beating the San Antonio Spurs 99-91. Pacers.com's Lauryn Gray breaks down the highly-anticipated game, which included David West's return to Indy and Point Guard Ty Lawson's Pacers debut.
March 7, 2016 - Pacers players Paul George, Ian Mahinmi, and Solomon Hill reflect on their impressive 99-91 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday night.
March 7, 2016 - After a steal by Rodney Stuckey, Solomon Hill knocks down the triple to give the Pacers their largest lead of the night.
March 7, 2016 - Monta Ellis comes up with the steal then finishes with a two-handed slam on the other end.
March 7, 2016 - Pacers point guard Ty Lawson makes his first big play since joining the team, driving to the hole and then making an acrobatic kick-out to Rodney Stuckey for the three.
March 7, 2016 - The Pacers come up with a steal and George Hill finishes the break with authority on the other end.
March 7, 2016 - Spurs’ assistant coach Ettore Messina, Patty Mills, David West and Tim Duncan talk about coming up short in their 99-91 loss to the Pacers.
Myles Turner rejects the layup shot with force.
March 7, 2016 - Highlights Pacers guard Monta Ellis' 26-point performance in Indiana's 99-91 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
March 7, 2016 - Highlights of Pacers All-Star forward Paul George's 23-point performance in Indiana's 99-91 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
March 7, 2016 - Ty Lawson dishes to Jordan Hill for the reverse dunk in the post.
March 7, 2016 - Monta Ellis finds Ian Mahinmi in the lane for the uncontested two-handed slam.
March 7, 2016 - After the Spurs scored the first four points of the game, Indiana reeled off 14 unanswered points to open up an early double-digit lead.
March 7. 2016 - Pacers guard Monta Ellis exploded for 13 points in the third quarter of Monday night's game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Pacers Stay Aggressive, Turn Back Spurs
The game with a thousand subplots had one overriding bottom line: the Pacers beat the second-best team in the NBA, getting and making enough breaks to cling to a victory that likely would have escaped them a few weeks ago.
Their 99-91 victory over San Antonio at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday was their best homecourt win of the season, rivaled only by their victory at Oklahoma City for best of show. They admittedly got the benefit of a poor shooting performance from the Spurs, but they also benefited from their own consistent defensive effort and their assertive approach to offense.
They haven't put together a long enough stretch of victories since the first week of December to assume too much, but their recent play, their current health and their upcoming schedule combine to provide hope for a strong finish.
"It kind of strengthens our belief in each other and our confidence level," Ian Mahinmi said. "We've had a good team all year, and we can beat anybody when we execute and when we play hard like we did tonight."
The Pacers are indeed becoming more and more interesting, at the very least. Monta Ellis led the Pacers with 26 points, hitting 8-of-13 field goals and all eight foul shots. When he backs his fearless approach with accurate shooting, he's dangerous. Paul George didn't shoot well and forced a few shots, but scored 23 points. He's playing more and more like he should be expected to play – not as outstanding as in November, but certainly better than in December and January. The bench, depleted by injuries, still contributed 25 points and got uplifting contributions from Rodney Stuckey (12 points), Jordan Hill (eight points, eight rebounds) and Solomon Hill (five points, strong defense and one huge 3-pointer.)
The Spurs were at full strength except for coach Gregg Popovich, who was tending to a family health issue. Their performance wasn't typical of a season in which they had built a 53-9 record heading into the game, better than any team in the league not named Golden State.
"I thought they competed harder than we did in the first half and that set the tone for the game," said former Pacers forward David West, now coming off San Antonio's bench. "We missed some good opportunities late. We knew this would be a tough game coming in here, but we didn't play the right way and we didn't approach it professionally."
Fair enough. The Spurs shot a season-low 35.4 percent from the field, and hit just 4-of-28 3-point attempts. Not all of them were well-defended. Still, the Pacers had something to do with it.
"They got a lot of good looks," Vogel said. "They were off their game a little bit, clearly. But we worked. The last six quarters we've played (since halftime of Saturday's win at Washington), we've worked extremely hard on the defensive end, and we've had good results. Certainly they had some looks they missed at the rim and the 3-point line, but our guys played with great energy."
That allowed the Pacers to maintain a lead throughout all but the first 2 ½ minutes of the game. George hit a 3-pointer with 9:31 left in the first quarter for a 5-4 lead, and they never looked back. Their lead peaked at 16 early in the fourth quarter on Solomon Hill's 3-pointer, but dwindled to three on three occasions in the final two minutes.
The Pacers hit just 9-of-23 shots in the period and failed to get good shots on several possessions. There was George settling for a 20-footer after getting matched up with Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge. There was George missing a 3-pointer too early in the shot clock. There was Ellis blatantly pushing off to get around a screen right in front of a referee. There was Ellis missing an 18-footer too early in the shot clock.
But those errors, at least, were aggressive mistakes, rather than sitting back and hoping something good would happen. That mindset also led to Ellis hitting a spinning, floating layup with 26.6 seconds left to open a five-point lead, and then George converting a three-point play off a fastbreak layup on the next possession.
"This team, they're so good defensively, you can't allow yourself to stay passive," George said of the Spurs. "We had to be aggressive tonight to play the game the way we wanted to.
"We had good looks. It came down to taking good looks and taking what they were giving us. We missed a couple. We made a couple. A team like this, you take what they give you."
The Pacers unveiled their latest acquisition, Ty Lawson, late in the first quarter. Waived by Houston on March 2, he had been through just the morning shootaround with his new teammates, but showed immediately the skills that had made him a premier point guard in Denver for five seasons.
He drove all the way to the basket and kicked out a crosscourt pass to Rodney Stuckey for a 3-pointer late in the first quarter, and then connected with Jordan Hill for a dunk early in the second. He drove the lane for a layup on the next possession, but fell to the floor and suffered a sprained left foot. He's day-to-day, but the injury is not believed to be serious.
He played just five minutes and five seconds, but that was enough to leave a positive first impression.
"His presence was felt," George said. "I thought the defense collapsed and San Antonio knew who Ty Lawson was. He made great plays. Defensively, he was great, diving for balls, saving balls...he did a great job bringing energy."
Lawson's brief display brought optimism for better bench play. Lavoy Allen (sore left knee) and C.J. Miles (strained left calf) watched in street clothes, but are due back soon. If the Pacers ever get everyone healthy, a reserve unit of Lawson, Miles, Stuckey, Allen, Jordan Hill and Solomon Hill would be one of the league's best.
Lawson's arrival stole some of the attention from West's return. The Pacers' unanimously-acknowledged leader over the past four seasons, he made his first trip back to the Fieldhouse since taking an $11 million pay cut and signing with San Antonio over the summer. He comes off the bench now, and doesn't mind a bit. No longer the oldest Pacers player, he's now the sixth-oldest Spur. No longer a mentor, he now has the luxury of soaking up knowledge.
"It's actually been cool – refreshing," West said Monday morning. "Having guys I can ask questions to, get some basketball insight from...it's been pretty interesting in that regard."
But worth $11 million?
"Probably more," he said. "It's been a great experience. Being around the constant knowledge, the legendary information these guys have. Being able to see Tim (Duncan) every day. You have four Hall of Fame guys around here (I can) pick their brain and get a good basketball perspective from. So it's been everything for me. It's been a great experience. The family's enjoying it. I have no complaints."
West still owns his home in Indianapolis. It's not for sale yet, but he's getting offers on it anyway. No wonder, given the structure's winning vibes. West bought it from former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Someone will want it just to absorb the aura.
The Pacers clearly miss West, not just for his maturity and leadership, but for the contributions he made at the end of close games. He's probably the Pacers' greatest clutch player behind Reggie Miller in the franchise's NBA history.
"(I miss) his leadership, not just with his presence in the locker room, but his ability to use his IQ to figure out a game, figure out an opponent throughout a game and make those type of adjustments," Vogel said. "His mind, really, is the biggest thing."
The fact that the Pacers won a close game without him on Monday could be an indication of their improving poise. Their remaining schedule could also be a sign of things to come. They're off for four days before playing at Dallas on Saturday afternoon, then play at Atlanta on Sunday. After that they'll play 11 of their final 16 games at home, with four of the five road games against teams outside of the playoff picture.
It's promising. But they have yet to earn the right to assumptions.
"We had a nice home stretch early on, too, but we didn't capitalize," George said. "This is good for us, winding down, we've got a nice stretch. And this should be the game that really boosts us and gives us the confidence."
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