INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—The Indiana Pacers just lost their margin for error.
The Pacers entered the night two games behind Atlanta for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with three games to play. With the loss and Atlanta’s loss to Boston, the Pacers need to win their last two and have the Hawks lose their final two to get into the playoffs.
Indiana’s Danny Granger scored a career-high 37 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter while playing with five fouls. The normally laid-back forward sat dejected in front of his locker minutes after the game, trying to understand how the Pacers didn’t pull through.
“We had everything to play for, our (playoff) lives were on the line,” he said. “When a game is that important, there’s no reason we shouldn’t win it, especially against a team that’s already been eliminated.”
The Pacers had won 10 of 13, but now need help to have anything to show for it. The loss was especially bothersome because of the Hawks’ loss.
“It’s frustrating,” Pacers forward Jermaine O’Neal said. “To come up short on a night where Atlanta lost is probably something we’re going to think about for the next couple days. There’s not much more you can really say about it.”
Mike Dunleavy added 22 points and seven assists for Indiana, which had its four-game winning streak end.
Charlotte, long out of the playoff hunt, wasn’t concerned with the fact that the Pacers were chasing a postseason berth.
“We’re not trying to be a spoiler for any team,” Bobcats coach Sam Vincent said. “That’s not our thought. We’re in an 82-game NBA schedule and we want to play all 82 games the best we can. These last two, three games you want to come out and fight all the way to the end.”
“Rebounding was the key,” Charlotte guard Matt Carroll said. “There have been a lot of games this year when we were on the opposite end of the rebounding total. It’s been our Achilles’ heel.”
Charlotte won without guard Gerald Wallace, who sat out with a left groin strain.
The Bobcats led 57-52 at halftime, then took advantage of second-chance opportunities to take an 84-74 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Pacers got back into the game late in the fourth quarter. A free throw by Travis Diener cut Charlotte’s lead to 100-95 with 3:30 to play.
Indiana’s Jeff Foster was credited with a basket on a goaltend by Okafor to make it 101-97 with 2:26 to play.
Dunleavy drew a charge from Charlotte’s Raymond Felton to give the Pacers possession. Dunleavy missed an off-balance 3-pointer, but Diener hustled for the rebound, then spun and made a 3-pointer that cut Charlotte’s lead to 101-100 with 1:03 left.
Okafor made two free throws to make it 103-100 with 44 seconds left. Indiana had a chance to tie, but Marquis Daniels missed an awkward turnaround on the baseline, and Charlotte rebounded. Felton made two free throws with 24 seconds left to increase the Bobcats’ lead to 105-100.
Granger made his sixth 3-pointer to make it 105-103 with 17 seconds left, but Richardson made two free throws at the other end 2 seconds later to make it 107-103, and the Pacers didn’t score again.
“We were playing with fire the whole game,” Granger said. “We slowly came back, but just fell short at the end.”
Now, the Pacers must win at Washington on Monday and at home against New York on Wednesday. They also must hope Atlanta loses Tuesday at home against Orlando, then Wednesday at Miami, which has the league’s worst record.
“We’ve got to get the job done, both games,” Indiana guard Flip Murray said. “It’s down to that.”
Richardson got ahead of Indiana’s defense and did a 360-degree spin and dunk in the first quarter. … Felton tied a franchise record with eight assists in a quarter (first). … Granger posted his first back-to-back 30-point games of the season. … O’Neal has blocked nine shots the past three games, despite