That was too close for comfort. The Indiana Pacers had a 9-point lead at the half, which they maintained heading into the final quarter before stretching the gap to as much as 16. Then complacency set in and the Cavs, led by Dion Waiters, started storming back. The stagnant and turnover-prone Pacers went without a field goal for more than five minutes as the Cavs came back within a single point.
Then, after a tough jumper by Mr Reliable, David West, the Pacers started missing free throws. Roy Hibbert went to the line twice and split both times, giving the Cavs the opportunity to send the game into overtime with a three. Fortunately for the Pacers, Earl Clark steps out of bounds on the inbounds play, and David West made Pacers fans sweat a little more by missing his first three throw before finally icing the game with the second.
It wasn't a great night for the Pacers but they still managed to get the win. Paul George led the team with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists, which Hibbert had 15 points and 6 rebounds. David West had 11 and Lance Stephenson and Danny Granger had 10 apiece.
Granger's biggest contribution was his crunch time defense which forced Clark to step out of bounds. He shot just 4-12, but this was the 4th consecutive game in which he has gone to double figures, and the game before that he had 8 points. His return to form has been much quicker than I anticipated and currently averages 8.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in 21 minutes per game. He is just shooting 36.5% from the field and 37.5% from three, though he has hit 93.3% of his free throws. What is the ceiling for the new DG33? 10 points per game off the bench? 12? 15? He's never been a high percentage shooter, but can he break 40% from the field? I have no idea, and that's what makes this Pacers team so intriguing. Anything he can give them will be a huge lift, especially come playoff time.
Anyway, this game was a lesson well learned for the Pacers, who showed that they are capable of closing out opponents when necessary but also prone to complacency against weaker teams. The Cavs were missing Kyrie Irving again (he injured his knee the last time these two teams met) and the Pacers perhaps did not respect them enough to take them seriously. Big mistake, and if it weren't for some luck, they might have paid for it dearly, especially as Miami eked out its own win against the streaking Raptors.
With the win, the Pacers extend their league-best record to 27-6 for the season and improve their iffy record on the second night of a back-to-back to 5-4. More importantly, they have maintained their 1.5 game lead over the Heat. They'll next play the Raptors on Tuesday at home in the hope of avenging last week's loss in Toronto. With the way the Raptors have been playing lately the Pacers better be ready.