Heading into Monday night’s game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the Pacers were 7-0 at home and 12-1 altogether so far this season.
The Wolves had a tall task. Coming off of a tough road loss at Houston on Saturday night, the Wolves stayed on the road and played one of the NBA’s premier squads on their own floor. A win would have been extremely impressive, but it simply was not in the cards.
The Pacers opened up a 20-10 lead midway through the first quarter, but Minnesota fought back to draw within 28-24 by the end of the frame. George Hill was fantastic early, using high screens from Roy Hibbert and David West to get around Ricky Rubio rather easily and get into the lane.
The Wolves much-maligned bench actually played fairly well between the end of the first quarter and throughout the second. In their most well-rounded and impressive quarter of the night (indeed, a strange twist for the Wolves, as the second quarter has often been a huge issue), the visitors outscored Indiana, 22-20. They trailed by a score of 48-46 at halftime, and had to feel good about where they stood, given the circumstances.
In the third quarter, the Wolves rode a string of Indiana meltdowns, both physical (countless avoidable turnovers) and emotional (three technical fouls, two in the 3rd quarter), to the briefest of one-point leads, at 66-65 with just over three minutes remaining in the period. Nine seconds later, Paul George knocked down a pair of free throws to regain an advantage that the Pacers would never relinquish.
Indeed, the Wolves received the benefit of the doubt on a few foul calls during the middle stages of the contest, but it wasn’t all that outrageous. Of course, in true NBA fashion, the calls immediately shifted toward the home team. The Wolves went a full quarter, nearly 12 minutes of game time, in between attempted free throws.
The Pacers were suddenly the beneficiaries of a number of questionable calls by the officials, and the game headed downhill quickly for the Wolves. The bounces wouldn’t go the Wolves’ way either, and with both teams playing so intensely sloppily, it’s hard to argue that this is a game that Minnesota deserved to win anyways.
In such an ugly game, the Pacers emerged early in the final frame as the superior team, and the Wolves couldn’t buy a shot. On the night, Minnesota shot an appalling 3 of 19 from the floor (15.8%) in a stunning return to last year’s incompetence from long range. Of course, the personnel is largely different, and other than a couple wild attempts by Corey Brewer, a number of the shots were of the in-and-out variety. Eventually, the bounces will swing the other way.
The offense generally felt like it was better in the half court than it has been of late. The 19 turnovers were the biggest issue, and too often, the Wolves would follow up an Indiana mistake with a miscue of their own, giving the ball right back. The game was effectively over midway through the fourth quarter, and the Pacers pulled away down the stretch, winning by a final score of 98-84.
– Kevin Love struggled from the field once again, shooting just 6 of 20, including 1 of 5 from three-point range. He did have 20 points and 17 rebounds, and did a great job battling the likes of Roy Hibbert, David West, and Luis Scola on the glass. He did struggle a little bit defensively, being overpowered by West and out-crafted by Scola.
– Rubio’s all-around game seemed a bit sluggish tonight, but he still hit a couple jumpers and finished with a nice line of 7 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, and just 2 turnovers. The bigger issue was on defense, despite the gaudy number of steals. He did an okay job on Hill, and Hill certainly hit some tough shots. But it’s impossible to ignore the 26 points on 9 of 13 shooting from the Pacers’ point guard.
– Nikola Pekovic outplayed his much taller counterpart. Hibbert scored just 4 points on 2 of 7 shooting, pulling down just 5 rebounds and only adding 1 block. Pekovic put up 18 points on 7 of 15 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds. Hibbert was in some foul trouble, playing just 27 minutes, but credit Pekovic (and Love) for that. Pek played solid defense in the paint, as well. While not the shot-blocking threat that Hibbert is, his hulking, immovable presence in the paint was significant tonight.
– If you haven’t heard the news, Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Wolves and Kings have agreed to swap Derrick Williams and Luc Mbah a Moute, pending a physical by Mbah a Moute on Tuesday. Click through for my thoughts and analysis.
– The Wolves will be back home on Wednesday evening, taking on the Denver Nuggets at 7:00 CDT. This is an important game, as the Wolves head right back out on the road for another rough stretch, and getting this victory to get back above .500 is vital.