David Lee

Late Warriors run made this one interesting, but Pacers are clearly on another level

The Golden State Warriors had a couple interesting games last season against the Indiana Pacers. Tonight’s game was no contest early on, as Indiana jumped out to a 35-21 lead at the end of the first quarter. Later the Pacers would build a 20-point lead in the third quarter, then they toyed with Golden State before beating them 102-94.

“Our start was dismal and then I thought the next three quarters we competed a little better and kind of played our style of basketball a little better,” said Andrew Bogut. “The first quarter cost us.”

Mark Jackson says “it’s a make or miss league” at least once a week, and the Pacers couldn’t miss in the opening quarter. Paul George was brilliant early and looked like a top-three player in the league during the game’s first 12 minutes, although the Warriors were spared one of his 360 windmill dunks.

The Pacers looked better than the Warriors in every way, and the margin was nowhere near as close as the final score. We already knew Indiana is the best defensive team in the league, but they also were faster to loose balls. Their shooting cooled down considerably as the game went on, but they compensated with 17 offensive rebounds that led to 21 second chance points.

They were also able to get a basket whenever they needed one. Case in point: the threes Lance Stephenson and George Hill made late in the final quarter — both shots came after the Warriors cut Indiana’s lead to four .

“It just makes those big threes that they hit down the stretch that much more of a dagger for us. If you fight so hard and get back to within five and need one more stop to get over the hurdle and they hit too tough threes down the stretch to put the game out of reach, that’s tough to overcome,” said Stephen Curry, who finished with a game-high 24 points but missed a three with 16 seconds remaining that would’ve cut the Pacers’ lead to one.

This game had promise going in, not just because the Pacers hold the NBA’s best record but what happened when these two teams faced last season. Golden State won their first meeting at home 103-92, in a game where George went 0-for-7.

“That game changed everything for our franchise and for him,” said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. “He flew back after the game and went right to the gym at five in the morning or something like that and got at least 500 jump shots up and adopted a new shooting routine.”

igsThe Pacers fell to 8-9 after that loss. After they beat the Warriors at home almost three months later, in a game that included a skirmish between the two teams, Indiana’s record was 36-21. George was a new player, and the Pacers had become contenders, a label the Warriors still think they can earn this season.

“We just got to keep learning as we go through the season, what it takes to be a consistent team,” Curry said.

“We’re right there. They played great basketball, they showed that tonight. But we’re right there. We’re a team that has the potential to do some great things this year if we can figure out the last little bit of this consistency out. We’ve just got to find that last little piece.”

The Warriors DO need to find whatever “piece” causes them to stop allowing 35 points in any quarter. But when they talk about being close and doing great things this year, it’s tough to take them seriously when they run into a squad like the Pacers that look superior at every spot besides point guard.

Dub Steps

— What was up with the floor? George Hill took a spill on one of the Martin Luther King Day logos near midcourt, and guys were slipping and sliding across the rest of the floor as well.

— Bogut left near the end of the third quarter, spoke with trainers and walked to the locker room. He returned to the game with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and afterward Mark Jackson said he banged knees with someone. Bogut said he’d be alright, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. Luckily for the Warriors, they don’t play again until Friday.

— Draymond Green went 1-for-7, but he held things together defensively so the rest of the team could make that little run to make the game interesting late.

— Harrison Barnes didn’t have any wow numbers by any means, but he seemed more in control than usual and his effort against Indiana actually could’ve been described as “scrappy.” Five rebounds in 21 minutes is pretty good compared to his usual rebounding rate.

— Klay Thompson: no free throw attempts, no rebounds, steals or blocks, one assist. He did manage to make 5-of-10 from beyond the arc.

— George cooled off after scoring 14 points before any of the fans had a chance to finish their first beverage (that they purchased at the arena, anyway), but Andre Iguodala can’t be fully healthy. Otherwise the Warriors would have to be pretty worried after seeing Kevin Durant go off for 54 and George get by Iguodala with ease in the first quarter.

— I asked David Lee if there was any carryover from the “brawl” (my term) last year. Lee downplayed the confrontation.

“I won’t call it a ‘brawl,’ (it was a) scrum. But no, they’re a physical basketball team. I thought we held up well against that tonight. Overall, we didn’t start the game the way we wanted to, on the defensive end especially,” Lee said. “We didn’t play that bad offensively, it was on the defensive end.”

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