OAKLAND, Calif. --The Golden State Warriors met the NBA's standard-bearers, the Indiana Pacers, and found out just how far they have to climb to reach their elite level.
Still a little ways, if Monday night's game was any indication. Indiana jumped to a 14-point first quarter lead, boosted it to 20 early in the third quarter, then withstood a furious Warriors charge for a 102-94 victory at Oracle Arena.
Golden State got back to within just two points, 79-77, when Harrison Barnes connected on a 3-point basket with 9:52 still to go in the game. But just as it appeared the Warriors were primed to complete their rally, the Pacers kept repelling their surges.
Indiana responded with eight of the next 10 points, and after David Lee cut it to 89-86 with 3:44 after two free throws, the Pacers scored five of the next six, including a 3-point basket by Lance Stephenson with 3:01 to go that pushed the lead to seven, 94-87.
Klay Thompson hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:03 left to cut it to four, but George Hill's 3-pointer with 1:37 left essentially sealed it. Stephen Curry had a 3-point try with less than 20 seconds to go that could have gotten the Warriors to within one, but it hit iron. A subsequent foul of Indiana's Paul George, who led a balanced Indiana attack with 23 points, allowed the Pacers to put it away at the line.
All five Indiana starters scored in double figures. After George, David West scored 17, Hill 15 and Roy Hibbert and Stephenson 15 apiece. Curry led the Warriors with 24 points. Lee had 20 and 12 rebounds, but the Warriors shot just 40.7 percent against the league's best defensive team.
The Pacers, a league-best 33-7, opened their lead to 20 with just 1:12 elapsed in the third period when Stephenson hit a short jumper inside, and the game appeared headed for a quick blowout.
But the Warriors kept chipping away throughout the third quarter. They got to within eight on a few occasions, including the end of the period when Curry hit a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left that cut Indiana's lead to 77-69 heading into the final 12 minutes.
The two teams came out scorching in the first quarter, each hitting its first five shots. But Indiana tightened down defensively, and the Warriors hit just 4 of 17 shots the rest of the period, while the Pacers shot 64 percent for the quarter (16 for 25) to take a 35-21 lead after the first 12 minutes.
Even with top defender Andre Iguodala guarding him much of the time, George gave a display of why he has become one of the best players in the NBA, scoring 14 first-quarter points, going 6 for 8 and hitting both of his 3-point attempts.
Golden State went on an 8-2 run to start the second quarter, but Indiana rebuffed the challenge and bumped its lead to 16 at one point before the Warriors cut it to a 13-point deficit at half, 53-40.
Indiana, which leads the league in defense and has held 19 opponents under 40 percent shooting, limited Golden State to 41 percent in the opening half (16 for 39).
--All-Star voting ended Monday night, and the Warriors will learn Thursday if Curry is their first All-Star starter since 1995.
"David Lee made a statement last year becoming an All-Star," said coach Mark Jackson. "For Steph to become a starter would be another win for the good guys. It definitely means something, because of the starting and getting the fan vote.
"I'd be very pleased, because people raised the bar for him after last year, and he has not disappointed. For me, I've watched his guy conduct himself on and off the floor like an All-Star. They could not vote for a better guy, forget about player."
--Jackson spoke eloquent words before the game about Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of the holiday.
"I'm not sitting here if he did not have a dream, and (if) he didn't fight for that dream," Jackson said. "I'm forever indebted. He's a man who put his family on the front line and sacrificed. I don't say that just as an African-American man. I think we all owe a big thank you to him because this is certainly a better place today."
--Indiana coach Frank Vogel was very familiar with at least one player on the Warriors roster--Iguodala. Vogel helped coach Iguodala when he was a rookie with Philadelphia.
"I'm excited to see the career he has had," Vogel said. "It's one like we all felt (with the 76ers) he could have back when he was a youngster playing along with the other A.I. (Allen Iverson). He was just a multitool player who could really handle, pass and create. The question mark whether he was going to become a good perimeter shooter, and he has. Obviously, defensively, he is a dream."
--Iguodala said the Warriors can learn a lot about how the Pacers set a consistent defensive standard.
"I think they all take pride in defending," Iguodala said. "You can tell they're on a mission. Their mindset every night is in the right place."
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