Pacers blast Warriors to sweep season series

Pacers, Lance Stephenson

Absolutely no one saw this coming. Two meetings in ten days against the Golden State Warriors, who’ve won the NBA Championship in two of the last three years, … and two Pacers win.

So unpredictable that Las Vegas wouldn’t even publish the odds when the schedule came out in August.

The Pacers were the unlikely winners Thursday night as the Warriors making their annual visit to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, much like they have felt throughout the season. They are the perfect example of why season predictions are flat-out silly. Because you don’t know. They didn’t know. Well, most of them anyways. Myles Turner has been high on this team since offseason scrimmages in September.

“I think people are starting to take notice, but we still ain’t got nobody’s respect yet,” said Turner.

“I think we look forward to competing against everybody because we’re the underdog in every matchup,” Oladipo said postgame. He was consistent, as usual, finishing with 21 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and three steals.

“… We don’t have any control over whether people respect us or not. All we have control over is our mindset and our approach to every day, what we bring to the table and how we come to play. And that’s what we’re focused on.”

The Pacers won for the sixth time in seven games by defending, stringing together stops, and playing sound basketball at the other end en route to a 126-106 win in front of 17,923 fans — the 14th sellout of the season.

Golden State was held to 44.6 percent shooting and 31 percent from range.

In contrast to most games this season, the Pacers didn’t fall behind early. They were the ones to set the tone and dictate the pace, something preached by Coach of the Year candidate Nate McMillan beforehand. Their biggest deficit was five points, and they never trailed in the second half. That’s progress.

When these two teams met in Oakland last week, the star-studded Warriors were without all four All-Stars. No Curry, no Durant, no Thompson, no Green. Although it wasn’t easy, the Pacers won by 11 while holding that undermanned roster to 81 points.

This game was different. It felt different.

For starters, it was played in front of a crowd eager to get their one look at the best of the best. Curry remains out with a left MCL sprain, but they had the other three plus several other guys, like Quinn Cook, who’s determined to earn a spot in the rotation.

“We’re still shorthanded in different ways. We’re missing our depth tonight, but we have three of our four All-Stars,” Kerr said with a grin after morning shootaround. “So, that’s always fun to say. We have four All-Stars.”

Kevin Durant led the Warriors, who had won their previous three games, with 27 points. But it took him 23 shots. Nine of them came at the foul line, and he was just 2 for 10 from range. (He’s 7 of 25 from the three-point line over the last three games.)

His scoring average against the Pacers is higher than any other active player in the NBA.

Bojan Bogdanovic was matched up against Durant for much of the game, and he won the head-to-head battle. Bogey led all scorers with 28 on an efficient 11-of-12 shooting. He hit six of seven 3-balls, helping the Pacers to out-shoot the Warriors from distance by 18 points.

“I think first of all we did a great job defensively,” Bogdanovic said. “Our point guards did a great job of controlling the tempo of the game, and that allowed us shooters to have a couple of wide open shots.”

After the game, coach Kerr was not pleased with the effort of his team. They have already locked up the second overall seed in the Western Conference.

“Just in general, it’s hard to win an NBA game if you don’t put forth any effort at all. I’m mad. I’m embarrassed. I know this game doesn’t mean anything in the seeding, but the playoffs start next week. It was an embarrassing effort. Pathetic effort.”

Kerr knows all the right buttons to press and it’s clear that he believes it’s important to stay on them with less than a week remaining in the regular season. They have three more games: New Orleans, at Phoenix, and at Utah.

The Pacers, meanwhile, are in a nice groove. While no one is 100 percent at this point of a season, nobody is on the injury report — knock on wood — and that’s huge a week before the playoffs. This may be a group that lacks big-game experience together, but they aren’t playing like it. Like many teams, they play best when counted out … just as everyone counted them out in late June after The Trade was completed.

It’s a quick turnaround for this bunch, flying to Toronto immediately after the game and having to clear customs. They play the Raptors, who own the best record in the East (56-22), Friday night and then play Charlotte twice to end the regular season. Win them all, and this group stuns us all even more by winning 50 games. Win two, and there’s a slim chance they could move into fourth and have home-court advantage in Round 1.

Despite a season sweep of the Warriors, the first time in six years for this franchise and to be the first team to do so of the Kerr era, this team isn’t satisfied. Why would they be, though?

It was a prove-it type of season individually for this entire roster and they’ve handled it well. Soon they will try to carry the good mojo into the playoffs.

“The win feels great,” Oladipo said. “But it’s just one win. We got a lot more goals and a lot more things that we want to accomplish. … We still have room to get better, especially going into the playoffs. We just have to continue to striving for [better].”

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

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