In the first half of last night’s heavyweight bout between the home team Golden State Warriors and visiting Indiana Pacers, it looked like Frank Vogel’s squad was going to run away with the game. Indiana’s defense looked dominant and held the Dubs’ normally unstoppable offensive attack to just 40 points while forcing more than half of Golden State’s 15 turnovers on the night.
But as the Warriors often do, they got hot in the second half and made a serious run at Indiana’s 20-point lead in the third quarter. Unfortunately for the Dubs, the difference between a championship contender and an aspiring contender became abundantly clear.
With a 102-94 win, the Pacers improved to the NBA’s best record of 33-7 and pulled four and a half games ahead of the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The loss put a little more distance between the Warriors and the Houston Rockets for the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Stephen Curry led the way with 24 points and nine assists, but only converted three of his 11 3-point attempts. David Lee had 20 points and 12 rebounds while Klay Thompson added 17.
The first half not only proved what happens when Golden State’s defense doesn’t show up, but it also gave a look at how imposing Indiana’s defense can be at times. And though the odds of a Golden State-Indiana NBA Finals seem remote and impossible to hedge any bets on in January, the fact of the matter is that there is a possibility of that matchup occurring, improbable as it may seem.
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From what we saw last night, Mark Jackson and company will have their hands full if that scenario somehow comes to be. When the Pacers needed stops, they got them. When they needed big buckets, including huge threes by Lance Stephenson and George Hill, they got them. And though Golden State largely outplayed Indiana in the second half, the Pacers had enough gas in the tank to get the job done in one of the toughest places to play in the NBA.
The good news is Golden State made it close and showed they can compete with anybody. Although they came out flat against Indiana’s tough defense in the first half, they traded blows with the Pacers down the stretch and just came up short in the end. This team isn’t just fun to watch because they make big third quarter runs; they’re dangerous because when the offense is clicking, they’re completely unstoppable. That starts with Curry, who struggled again from downtown. But once Curry busts out of his current shooting slump, this team is just as deadly as ever.
However, last night’s game gave a convincing look at why the Warriors can’t be taken seriously as title contenders just yet. They’re right on the cusp and no one should be surprise if they do manage to make a deep playoff run or even emerge from the ultra-competitive West. But between the old “live by the three die by the three” adage, Jordan Crawford somewhat showing his true colors (1-for-5 shooting, three turnovers in 13 minutes), the all-around lack of a bench and the fact that the Pacers just look like a better team at this point, there are plenty of things for Golden State to aspire to be.