No, the Golden State Warriors didn’t have Stephen Curry, who’ll still be sidelined for a few more weeks by a sprained MCL, or Andre Iguodala, who’s missed five games with a sore left knee, or Patrick McCaw, who’ll be out for a while recovering from injuries he suffered in his frightening fall after being undercut by Vince Carter last Saturday.
Yes, they were coming off a high-profile clash on Tuesday night, a potential playoff preview in which Kevin Durant and company outlasted old friends Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks in part to the continued ice-cold shooting of All-Star forward Paul George. No, the Warriors don’t really have anything to play for at this point, locked as they are into the West’s No. 2 seed behind the conference-clinching Houston Rockets.
None of that changes the simple fact that the Indiana Pacers beat the hell out of the Warriors at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday night.
Indiana took charge midway through the second quarter, ripping off a 21-8 run behind the playmaking and shooting of All-Star Victor Oladipo, point guard Darren Collison and sharpshooting forward Bojan Bogdanovic to take a double-figure lead into halftime. Nate McMillan’s club never looked back, controlling the action for the final two quarters and going up by as many as 26 before finishing off an impressive 126-106 win.
After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr roasted his Warriors, terming the team’s effort “embarrassing” and “pathetic.” And it’s true that Golden State was far less than its best self, with Durant and Klay Thompson combining to shoot just 14-for-39 from the field and a generally lackadaisical approach to both stopping the ball, protecting the rim and rotating out to shooters that allowed Indiana to roll up a 56-40 edge in points in the paint and a plus-18 mark beyond the arc, where the Pacers shot 15-for-29 as a team. But the Pacers didn’t win because the Warriors played like crap; they won because they also played great.
“They played playoff basketball tonight,” said veteran Warriors guard Shaun Livingston. “We didn’t.”
Quiet as it’s kept — and, somehow, it’s still kept quiet — the Pacers have been doing that all damn year. After Thursday’s triumph, they’re now 47-32, solidly in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, a game and a half back of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers, knotted up in third and fourth. Oladipo has been absolutely brilliant, weathering a post-New Year’s dip in his long-distance shooting by continuing to attack at every opportunity, no matter who’s staring back at him across the ball:
Please stop and appreciate how Oladipo sized up Klay-freaking-Thompson at the top of the key and blew right past him and finished at the rim when Draymond AND Jones collapsed on him.
No dancing, no pleasantries. Just cuts to the chase and attacks. pic.twitter.com/DHC40yAKPk
— Caitlin Cooper (@C2_Cooper) April 6, 2018
Oladipo’s evolution into a No. 1 option and offensive star has made him the leader in the clubhouse for Most Improved Player honors, but he’s bringing it on the other end, too. He leads the league in steals, can absolutely blanket opposing scorers night to night, and regularly turns in the kind of hard-nosed effort that stops the other guys dead in their tracks and brings the Indiana faithful to their feet:
Victor Oladipo stops the KD fastbreak pic.twitter.com/VHzydIWSaH
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) April 6, 2018
The Pacers don’t play fast or shoot a ton of 3-pointers, but they’ve got a bunch of dudes who can shoot it, headlined by Bogdanovic, who entered Thursday posting career highs in field-goal and 3-point percentage … and went on to make 11 of his 13 shots against Golden State, including six of his seven 3-pointers, on his way to a game-high 28 points in 30 1/2 minutes:
Darren Collison’s a solid point guard who makes the shots he gets (15 points on 6-for-8 shooting on Thursday), and creates for others without making a ton of mistakes (five assists against one turnover). Thaddeus Young, still, does a little bit of everything (16 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block).
Midstream addition Trevor Booker hustles his ass off and makes you feel him. Cory Joseph moves the ball and steps confidently into his catch-and-shoot looks. Lance Stephenson … well, Lance is basically Charlie from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” if he was a middle linebacker with a yo-yo dribble.
The pieces are weird, maybe, and they might not quite fit in the context of the modern NBA. But they do fit, and when they come together, they create a whole that’s capable of absolutely undressing some of the league’s best teams.
Imagine if I would've told you in August that the Pacers would go 7-1 against the Warriors, Cavs, and Spurs.
— Derek Schultz (@Schultz975) April 6, 2018
There was one moment where it looked like the Warriors might wake up and walk the Pacers down. After trailing by 22 with 28 seconds to go in the third quarter, Golden State put together a run to open the fourth. Durant finally cleared the cobwebs with a quick spurt, scoring six points in 45 seconds, and after a pair of bunnies by Livingston and former Pacers great David West, the Dubs had chopped the deficit to 10 with 10 minutes to go in the game.
At that point, Oladipo decided it was time to have a chat with his teammates.
“I said, ‘This is a great test for us.’ That’s the first thing that I said,” he told FOX Sports Indiana’s Jeremiah Johnson during an on-court interview after the game. “‘Let’s go see where we’re at. What are we going to do now?’ That’s what I said. Because at the end of the day, they’re the best in the world for a reason, and their coach started putting their stars back in, and putting the guys in who are experienced to help them come back, and they did. So what type of team are we going to be? How are we going to respond?”
He responded the ski-mask way. First, Oladipo picking off a Draymond Green pass to set up Bogdanovic for a layup, and then came the dead-stop tie-up of Durant. Two possessions later, a Joseph triple off an Oladipo drive-and-kick put Indy back up by 17, and the rout was back on.
“We did a great job of just keeping our composure and making the necessary plays to kind of get over the hump,” Oladipo said during the post-game interview, before offering a brief laugh. “Everybody played well. I would try to shout out one person, but it would be hard. It was just a phenomenal overall win.”
It was also one that earned these Pacers a pretty neat bit of history in relation to the defending NBA champions:
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) April 6, 2018
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2018
Oladipo, for his part, wasn’t too willing to put much stock in that piece of trivia.
“It means absolutely nothing,” he said. “Great wins, two great wins, a great win tonight. But there’s a bigger goal and a bigger task at hand, and we’ve got to continue to keep getting better.”
The contrast couldn’t have been more clear. The Warriors, a galaxy of talent expected by everyone to rampage through most every team they face, got pantsed on a night on which, according to their head coach, “Caring in general was the main problem.” The Pacers, a collection of passed-over prospects whom few in the league really thought all that much about at the start of the season, dominated the defending champions because they’re a team that just never stops caring … even if they don’t really care that the rest of us aren’t paying much attention to what they’re doing over there in the Hoosier State.
“That’s not the end of the world, either,” Thad Young recently told John Gonzalez of The Ringer. “We like to sneak up on people and win games. It’s kind of our thing.”
If they can keep this up come next weekend, they’re not going to be sneaking up on anybody for much longer.
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