INDIANAPOLIS – As Troy Murphy saw it, the end was fitting.
Throughout a 90-87 loss to the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Indiana Pacers played solid defense. Spurs All-Star forward Tim Duncan shot woefully and his teammates weren’t much better.
And as they have done much of the season, the Pacers fought.
So, after trailing by 14 in the second half, after rallying in dramatic, gutty fashion, the Pacers trailed by three points in the final seconds when Manu Ginobili missed a layup that missed the rim. After Duncan tipped a rebound from the lane in a scrummish, late-game scramble, George Hill shot a 3-point field goal that missed.
And Duncan rebounded. Yet again.
That wasn’t the only reason the Pacers lost – yet again – but as Murphy said, it did seem to sum up a game the Pacers lost in relatively new fashion, but in a fashion no less frustrating.
“The last play of the game was almost picture perfect for them,” Murphy said afterward.
Picture perfect for the Spurs, and dismal for the Pacers, who held Duncan to what the 12-time All-Star called the worst shooting night of his career.
Duncan shot 4 of 23, and scored just eight points. The Spurs as a team shot 36 percent, but out-rebounded the Pacers, 56-47, and got 20 second-chance points.
“If you would have told me we would hold them to 36 percent shooting, I would think we had a chance,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “The story of the game was the glass.”
That, and the play of Spurs guard Tony Parker, who missed the final game before the All-Star break and who hadn’t played in nine games because of a sore hip.
Parker, who scored nine points in the fourth quarter, finished with a game-high 28 points on 11 of 20 shooting. Parker said afterward as of yet, he “can’t do every movement, can’t go full speed.”
But he added with a smile:
“I’m a vet. I know how to get by.”
As did Duncan, who while struggling offensively managed 26 rebounds, 11 offensive.
“I was going Mo (Moses) Malone out there,” he said, smiling. “I was giving myself a chance – I’ll tell you that much.”
Said Parker, “That’s the great thing about T.D. If he’s not making shots, he’s going to do great stuff. He’s been playing like that all season. That’s why he was in the All-Star game.”
Despite Duncan’s struggles, the Spurs led 51-45 at halftime and extended the lead to 66-52 with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter before the Pacers rallied to cut the lead to two – 69-67 – entering the fourth quarter.
“We imploded at the end of the third quarter,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said.
That implosion was enough to let the Pacers back in, and given that opportunity, they played gutsy in the fourth quarter to not only stay in it, but have a realistic chance to win. They inched ahead by six points early in the period, but Parker hit a short jumper, then a 3-pointer, and the Spurs trailed by just one. Soon enough, a 19-foot jump shot by gave San Antonio an 80-79 lead. The Pacers tied it once more, but the Spurs never trailed again/
“We battled the whole game,” Parker said. “We had a tough first quarter, missing a lot of layups. We had a good third quarter, but Indiana also came back and it was a battle back and forth.
“It’s always sweet to win on the road. Tonight, I thought we made the shots we needed and we made the stop we needed in the fourth quarter.”
The Pacers, as so often has been the case this season, didn’t. Forward Danny Granger had 23 points in more than 45 minutes for the Pacers, shooting 8 of 17, while center Roy Hibbert had 14 points. Forward Troy Murphy had 16 rebounds and guard T.J. Ford had 14 points for the Pacers, who now face a brutal stretch of 16 games against teams with superior records, 11 of which are on the road.
“We can’t look back on this night,” Ford said. “This is the NBA. You can lose one night and be right back out there ready to go on the second night. We’ve got to regroup tomorrow, get ourselves together.”