OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – When Paul George played at Golden State last season, he missed all seven shots he took and finished scoreless in Indiana’s loss. Instead of sulking, he went straight to the gym after the Pacers arrived back home in the wee hours of the morning.
That work ethic has paid off.
George scored 23 points to go with four rebounds and two assists, and the NBA-leading Pacers built a big lead before holding off the Warriors 102-94 Monday night for their fifth straight win.
“That game changed everything, for our franchise and for him,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, recalling the 103-92 loss at Golden State on Dec. 1, 2012. “It forced him to change his approach.”
George has emerged as an MVP candidate this season, and his Indiana teammates are improving just as rapidly.
The Pacers (33-7) went ahead by 20 in the third quarter, watched the Warriors whittle the lead to two and then regrouped in the closing minutes to open the five-game West Coast trip with a victory.
Roy Hibbert had 14 points and 13 rebounds, David West added 17 points and Lance Stephenson finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to help the Pacers pull away for good.
“I felt good coming off screens, dribbling the ball and hitting some shots,” said George, who made 9 of 20 from the floor. “It’s just tough running around with those guys and still having legs to make shots at the end. That’s really what the toughness was.”
Stephen Curry had 24 points and nine assists, and David Lee had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the streaky Warriors, who have lost four of six since winning 10 in a row.
Indiana outshot the Warriors 45.1 to 40.7 percent and outrebounded them 52 to 45. Both teams committed 15 turnovers.
“We’re right there as a team that has the potential to do some great things this year if we can figure that last, little bit of consistency out,” Curry said. “We’ve shown in spots we have the talent to do it, we just have to find that last little piece of assertiveness against the best teams in the league.”
Golden State made the Pacers work for the win.
After going down by 20 in the third quarter, Harrison Barnes hit a 3-pointer to slice Indiana’s lead to 79-77 early in the fourth. The Pacers pulled away by eight before the Warriors roared back within three on Lee’s free throws.
Stephenson answered with a 3-pointer to put the Pacers up 94-87. Klay Thompson followed with swish from long range, then George Hill hit another from beyond the arc to keep Indiana in control.
“It was like the movie ‘Rocky II.’ I’m not sure which guy was going to fall first. Both teams were completely exhausted,” Vogel said.
The Warriors’ final push ended almost as quickly as it started.
Andre Iguodala made a fadeaway to trim Indiana’s lead to 98-94 with less than a minute left. After Iguodala stole the ball from Hill, Curry missed a contested 3-pointer short, and the Pacers put the game away on free throws.
“We’re close, but we still have work to do,” said Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
The Warriors entered the night having played an NBA-high 25 road games compared to 17 at home. The game began a string of five straight and nine of 11 at Oracle Arena, though Golden State’s home court provided little comfort against the NBA’s best.
Sparked by its defense and work-to-get-a-good-shot approach, Indiana opened a 35-21 lead at the end of the first quarter. Golden State switched to a smaller lineup to try and outrun the Pacers, who instead exploited their size inside.
After going ahead by 16 points late in the second quarter, Indiana let the Warriors creep closer thanks to a series of turnovers. The Pacers led 53-40 at the half.
Indiana came out of the break just like it did to start the game, scoring the first seven of the third quarter to take a 60-40 lead that silenced most of the announced sellout crowd of 19,596.
But Curry and Co. quickly had fans on their feet and to a fever pitch after a timeout. Curry hit a jumper, then tossed an alley-oop to Bogut before Thompson’s 3-pointer started a run that brought the Warriors within eight heading to the frantic fourth quarter.