Pacers Lose to Nuggets as Controversy Masks What Was a Troubling Game – and Road Trip

andre iguodala paul george

Like the loss in Utah, the Pacers could have won this game. Given the back-to-back controversial calls that favored the Nuggets on the game’s final two possessions, it isn’t unreasonable to think the Pacers should have won this game.

But I’m not really hearing all that.

Indiana, again, did not play all that well in a building in which it is tough to win unless you play well. From the outset, Denver’s biggest key to the game was fulfilled as the Nuggets forced the Pacers to play at their pace. Indiana was willing and went against character by spreading the offense and launching shots from deep. They were making ‘em, too, hitting 6 of their first 12 from long distance in the game’s first 18 minutes.

They were up 45-41, but this team doesn’t normally shoot like this (no team does), so Denver had to feel good about its chances given how easily they were scoring in the paint — a place that is usually a verboten scoring zone when playing this Indiana team.

The final six minutes of the half saw the score start to go Denver’s way. The pace of the game and Denver’s insistence on bombarding the lane started to shape everything that was happening on the court.

The Pacers stopped hitting shots (going 3-for-10 in the final six minutes of the half), and the Nuggets kept diving to the hoop. They got to the line, first cutting into Indiana’s lead and then taking one of their own as their athletic wing players scored free points at the charity stripe.

Of all the teams in the NBA, the Nuggets score far and away the most points per game in the paint. It is a staggering disparity between them (56.2 points in the paint per game) and the number-two Clippers (46.7). Meanwhile, no team in the NBA allows fewer points in the paint than the Pacers (which allow a mere 35.7 points in the paint per game).

Something had to give. Spoiler alert: It was Indiana’s defense.

It tells us a lot that the Nuggets were able to score 30 points in the paint in the first half. Not only is that more than half of what they normally produce, but it is nearly the entire game-long total that the Pacers usually let up.

Looking at these numbers, there is little else to conclude than this: one team was maintaining its normal identity in this game and one team was completely unable to exert its game plan on the opponent.

The third quarter was more of the same.

The first numbers need no context: Indiana shot just 8-for-21 (38.1%) while Denver made 12-for-22 (54.5%).

The more interesting aspect is not makes or misses; it is the quality of shots the two teams got. Denver took 11 shots in the paint, including 8 in the restricted area. They made 5 of these 8 at the rim, and 1 of these misses came only due to a spectacular block by Paul George on what seemed to be a sure dunk for Danilo Gallinari on the break.

From the beginning of the quarter, the Nuggets were off to the races and their running created easy baskets. They grabbed Indiana misses and went the other way, and after two big blocks by Kosta Koufos ignited more fast breaks, they jumped out to a six-point lead and had the arena rocking.

This was Nuggets basketball at its finest. Even when they couldn’t run in the quarter, they probed the paint and only settled for jumpers after first trying to score inside.

The Pacers, to their credit, did not simply resign themselves to shooting from the outside. They continually tried to pound the ball inside, posting up George Hill on Ty Lawson, for example, as well as getting looks for both Roy Hibbert and David West in their usual comfort zones. (Presuming, ya know, Hibbert still has one.)

The problem wasn’t so much the intent, but the execution. The offense simply was unable to create the types of high-quality shots we saw on the other end.

Of the Pacers’ 21 shots in the period, 9 did come in the paint. But they made just 2. (Although several of the misses did come on a single play in which Lance Stephenson missed a driving layup and Roy Hibbert missed multiple put-back attempts. In all, Hibbert was 0-for-4 in the quarter.)

The team went inside but they didn’t get layups, just contested mid-range shots. The best looks of the quarter came from the inside-out game as the interior ball-handlers make the wise decision not to shoot and instead found an open player outside. Such looks are tough to rely on, however, and the misses started to pile up.

Nothing changed as the game entered the fourth: Indiana missed 7 of its first 11 shots, and Denver made 4 of its first 6, while adding 6 free throws during the stretch. Some offensive boards and free throws by Indiana kept the game from getting even further out of hand, but it was no fluke that the Nuggets took a game-high 14-point lead after Lawson raced down the court to score easily at the rim in transition with 6:45 to play. It was the fourth Nugget field goal of the final period, and all four were scored while the attacking player seemed to have a heatseeking lock on the rim. The were going to the hoop all the way, and the Pacers were unable to stop them.

What came next was a surprise.

The Pacers defense completely took over the game seconds later. The much-heralded defense put on the clamps and kept the Nuggets from scoring for the nearly five straight minutes in the game’s closing minutes. It was a complete reversal of dominance. It was like the third act of a Mighty Ducks sequel had just begun.

As the stops piled up, Stephenson did the rest. With his team down 14 and just over six minutes to play, he scored or assisted on 13 of the Pacers’ next 15 points as they cut the lead to just two.

First Lance drove to the hoop. Layup. He broke down the defense again, but this time dumped it off to Hibbert for the dunk after drawing a second defender. Then, Stephenson stuck a big three to cut it to eight.

Indiana had life.

And Lance wasn’t done.

He pushed the ball in transition and whipped out a signature hesitation move to get to the line and hit two freebies. His next foray into the open court was even better — both aesthetically and value-wise.

The Pacers forced yet another miss and he received the outlet. But he wasn’t content to walk it up, instead pushing the ball up court before the defense was set. He dribbled from the left wing to the middle, drawing Andre Iguodala to deal with the scoring threat that Stephenson provided. As Iggy left Paul George, Lance wasted no time and found a wide-open George for a three.

Better yet: Iguodala was so slow to rotate back that he had to leap extra far to even pretend to contest the look. The result was Iggy fouling George after the release.

Four-point play.

Two-point game.

Indiana only got to this point because the defense was able to hold Denver scoreless for nearly five minutes. But make no mistake, they also only got to this point because Lance Stephenson kept that ball in his hands and made four plays himself — and that doesn’t even include the spot-up three he drilled.

The comeback doesn’t happen without both of these elements happening in unison. It was some special stuff.

Then came the ending. Which is what everyone will be talking about.

Really, the rest of the game is stuff you can find on Sportscenter, but I’ll play along and recount what I saw.

Following the four-point-play gaffe, Iguodala continued to embarrass himself. He did a good job to get out into transition and draw fouls on two separate occasions. But he missed four straight free throws and nearly cost his team the game. That is five points that he can be blamed for individually if you include the foul shot Paul George made.

The teams then traded a few big buckets, and the game was tied. Denver ball.

They went to Gallo, who was a monster in the second half with 19 points after the break. But his drive/step back attempt wasn’t step-backy enough to elude the Mr. Fantastic reach of a Paul George contest.

George blocked the 6’10″ Italian’s fadeaway. Easily.

Pacers ball.

One possession. Score or go to overtime.

I would have run a George Hill/David West pick-and-roll, but the team opted to give the ball to Paul George in isolation with Iguodala defending him. As George made his move, the two players collided and it looked like a whistle was warranted, especially as George lost the ball.

That was controversy number one. (Credit Iggy for at least one thing, however: He grabbed the loose ball and called a timeout with less than a second left but before the buzzer sounded.)

Nuggets’ ball on their own end. They need a miracle.

They get it.

On a nicely executed lob play for Iggy, Paul George and Andre both elevate for the ball like few humans on this planet can. There was contact. Iguodala can’t get a good tip on the ball.


Paul George is called for a foul and Iggy heads to the line. No embarrassment this time.


Ball game.

Pacers fans, players and coaches will tell you that these final two plays mean more than the 24 straight minutes that Denver dominated Indiana from the mid-second quarter to the last half of the final period. The refs blew it, man, they’ll tell you.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Those calls were suspect. There isn’t any doubt about it.

But the Pacers tried to come into a building where winning is a very hard proposition and they left their game plan in the locker room almost from the opening tip. They were happy to spread the game and shoot threes and try to score with Denver. It even worked for the first 18 minutes.

But then the shots stopped going in and the Nuggets did what the Nuggets do: played hard-nosed defense, scrambled and affixed their single-minded Terminator-like focus on the rim.

Indiana couldn’t recover until the waning minutes and by then it was, ultimately, too late. Too late to still win while overcoming some minor officiating adversity anyway.

Talk about the calls, but the Pacers were simply unable to stop the Nuggets from exploiting the interior. A team whose whole identity is based on tough defense got shredded inside for 24 straight minutes. Nothing shows this better than the film, but one look at the shot chart tells you which team was pounding the interior and which team was settling for more jumpers. And the percentages don’t lie.


The team deserves a huge amount of credit for turning the screws so tightly late. Holding any team scoreless for nearly five minutes is incredibly impressive. Lance, too, played some stupendous basketball down the stretch. None of the end-game nonsense even has a chance to happen if not for him taking over late.

Such things, however, are tough to rely on. So too are expecting the other team’s best player (probably) to miss four free throws late.

So its wonderful that they were right there in the end, but the most concerning aspect of this game is not the state of NBA officiating. It is that the supposed best defensive team in the NBA, which should have been trying to salvage a road trip, did not come out and make the Nuggets adapt to them; instead, they adapted to the Nuggets.

Indiana tried to play Denver basketball from the opening tip, and they simply don’t play it as well as Denver does. That’s what really happened.

Tags: Road Troubles

  • Tenacious D.

    It’s hard not feel like the Pacers should have come back 2-2 from this trip. They could have been 3-1 all things considered. I’m worried that we’re stalling out into a mid-season lull, so we’ll see how they bounce back at home. My biggest worry is how little respect Roy gets from opposing teams these days. He’s not altering many shots, and mishandling a lot of rebounds even when does. I really feel like his inability to reliably produce 10-14 points a night is what’s costing them a lot of close games.

    • lil-bang

      Pacers did the same thing last season. They went on a big stall right before All-star break, but came back strong after it. Only problem is…I know Danny is out, but they should have a good grip on this Central Division right now with Drose and the little while Deng was out. Let’s hope they don’t mess around and screw the pooch on winning what should be a gimme Central Divison this year. Definitely the way the Pacers have been playing without Granger.

  • Joe Betz

    Jared: Nearly all NBA games come down to the final five possessions, and regardless of how the Pacers and Nuggets played early, the belief that the refs didn’t “really” take the game from the Pacers because of how they played early is hard to defend. Simply put: the Pacers DO NOT BLOW TEAMS OUT. Expecting the Pacers to be up by 10 and therefore remove the refs from the equation is to not face the reality that is the Pacers offense without their highest scorer. The referees swallowed their whistle most of the game until it mattered most–for the home team. Super frustrating.

    • Zack

      A foul is a foul. It shouldn’t matter if it’s the first seconds of the game or the last. But I get your point. Normally the home team may have a slight advantage when it comes to referees. But then again, that’s part of why it’s harder to win on the road than it is at home.

      • Jack Wright

        but it wasnt a foul

    • Will

      I just don’t understand. Is Jared implying it’s karma they lost? Or they played so poorly they deserved to lose? My sentiment is similar, Joe. They put themselves in a position to win despite playing bad poor early on. They were in a situation to (basically) take the last shot. I get that in the grand scheme of things that’s not a good sign, or it’s shallow to blame the refs, but this team is going to play a lot of close games; hence why those opportunities are extremely important. We could talk forever about the missed calls that went our way or against us before hand. In a timed game, all that matters is where you’re positioned at the end. But us “casual fans” wouldn’t understand that. Regardless. It’s one game. Long stand at home will snap the funk. Quoting David West: “Rodney Dangerfield” (no respect)

  • lil-bang

    Reminds me of a Pacers vs Heat game 2 years ago. Pacers up 1 with about 2 seconds left. Miami is inbounding ball from half cout. Run oop to James. Granger has perfect position on James. Like Reciever inside of a DB. Danny Knocks ball out. Lebron lands, looks a ref, swings both arms out, actually takes a couple steps to the ref, then ref blows whistle. Obvious late call. James hits both free throws. Pacers down 1 with under a second.
    O’brien then actually for once runs a smart play, runs same play Miami did. Granger goes up for oop and Lebron completely undercuts him, he was surprised they would run an oop over him. Whistle blown immediately, Danny cashes both free throws. Game over.
    Officials are unfair. It sucks but they really are. Pacers don’t get that call on the road, but Lebron will get that call everywhere he plays. Makes the game compeletly unfair and it is hard thing to deal with when you play, because against really good teams its seems as if there is no possible way to win. You have to make the other team quit for you to actually win.
    Sad thing was all the Miami fans were so pissed because they think they got cheated, but it was completely obvious that Grangers defense was good and should have been a no call. While Lebron didn’t even get off the ground when he tried to play D and just took Danny’s leg out, yet somehow people think it was a bad call.
    One side will always feel like it got screwed in these situations. Unfortunately enough the Pacers are small market team with no global centerpiece superstar so they will usually be on the losing end. It sucks.

    • Zack

      You do realize that the Nuggets are also a small market team with no global centerpiece superstar right?

      • lil-bang

        I said “usually be on the losing end”, home court came into play with this one. PG’s foul was just a little easier to call than AI’s on him.

    • Adam Stout

      I don’t think Miami fans cared at all about that game, since it was against Lebron’s Cavs, the year before he took his talents to South Beach.

      That said, O’Brien’s decision to run the exact same play forced the official to give Danny the same call for virtually identical “contact.” Single best play call JOB ever made.

      • lil-bang

        Good call. Little Lapse of the memory on my part. Thanks for catching that.
        Yeah. O’brien was bad at play calls. Vogel is getting better with his playing calling. Well atleast looks better since Hill doesn’t fumble the ball away like Collison always did. Only “bad play” I have seen Hill run in the final seconds was the game this year where the Pacers didn’t call timeout. Down by 3 and Hill pushes the ball up court and takes a 3 mid-wing and gets contact drawn on his elbow, but no whistle(almost made the one handed heeve as well)…Refs believed he jumped into it…Really wasn’t a bad play just didn’t get the call.
        -side bar-I always felt like Danny would never get foul calls on his last second shot attempts either…I remember the bulls playoff game a couple years back, Danny has a last second shot, draws contact on his elbow, no foul call.
        -double side bar- Character I like about Danny, Didn’t complain to the officials there just walked off court. He may get in some other players faces frequently, but doesn’t act like a cry baby to the officials like superstars do.

  • lil-bang

    Pacers have won how many games this year giving the ball to Hill at the end?
    And this time they give it George?
    George is a stud right now but, why fix what ain’t broken? Not sure who was guarding who on the play but doesn’t make since to me. Iguodala on PG or Lawson on Hill? Easy decision for me.

    • Zack

      PG had a very good game but I agree, I think you go to Hill in this situation, especially with Lawson guarding him.

    • Jack Wright

      hill is our clutch guy! very poor decision by vogel

  • lil-bang

    Foul on both ends it looks like to me.
    Igoudala clearly reaches and George smartly starts to drive to draw the contact from Andre’s reaching shoulder…but he doesnt get the foul call.
    Paul does foul Andrew on the other end though. Not sure why Paul looks so suprised by they play call. Why is he just not standing at the rim waiting for an oop? .5 seconds left…only thing they could try right?

    • Zack

      Technically in .5 seconds you can get an actual shot off (i.e. the Derek Fisher shot with .4 seconds left). But that’s a tough play to defend (without fouling), especially if the pass is thrown in the right spot.

    • Jack Wright

      i didnt think george fouled him at all

      • Will

        Too bad it’s not the NFL right? Incidental contact/inadvertant tangling of the feet haha. No flag.

        • Jack Wright

          hell theres hardly any contact !

    • Jack Wright

      just watched it again. george absolutely didnt foul him. completely bullshit call

      • lil-bang

        A passed is lobbed in the air. One guy jumps up for it, the other guy stumbles and backs into the guy trying to catch the pass…Foul

        • Josh Baker

          It certainly looks like Iggy initiates the contact. Hard to fault PG when he doesn’t start the action.

          • lil-bang

            Guess I’m just not as big as a pacer fan as everyone else. All I see is Iggy planted to jump up and receive a pass. Paul George takes a step back and steps on Iggy’s feet with some body contact. Iggy jumps and gets a hand on the ball while PG stumbles to the ground. Paul George was simply out of position. Its a bang bang play, but looks like PG fouled him.

          • Jack Wright

            im being objective. no foul. terrible ridiculous call

          • djmcba

            I’m w/ bang on this – PG fouled him (barely). What makes it tough to swallow is that the contact Paul makes is about 1/4 of the contact that Iggy made on PG on our final possession that wasn’t called. No consistency.

            I’m also w/ Jared on the article – I don’t think he is dismissing the importance of the final plays, but the Pacers got handled for the overwhelming majority of the game. We got all the breaks we could have asked for just to be in a position to be close at the end, when lady luck left us standing at the altar. The “scary” takeaway is that they effectively imposed their will upon us and if you watched the game it was pretty obvious we could do nothing to stop their up-tempo transition game. That said, the Nuggets have been doing that to almost everyone that comes to Denver.

            Big home stretch coming up though. Wins over the Heat, Bulls, and Hawks could have us sitting pretty by the end of next week.

        • Jack Wright

          explaining what happened in words does nothing for me when i can watch the actual replay as many times as i want. no foul. overtime.

  • Josh Baker

    My problem with your line of thinking is that it puts everything on equal footing. Yes, every point inherently has the same value, but it really doesn’t. If you look at a win expectancy chart, you’ll find that a score at the end of a close game will swing the percentages way more than a score at the beginning. Yes, the points before are important, but they essentially no longer matter (when tied/close) because they have already happened. The next thing that happens becomes the most important. Which is why end game calls are so very important, and have such a huge impact. Generally, an end game call will lead to a binary outcome. A win or a loss. There is not enough time to overcome it, no time for a make-up. So you can talk til you’re blue in the face that winning time is not the deciding factor and isn’t the most important time of the game. But you’re just plain wrong.

  • Jack Wright

    im so pissed

  • David Savage

    Doesn’t consistency in a position of authority like refereeing matter anymore?

    If a play isn’t a foul in one instance of the game then it shouldn’t be in another.

    And to this article it is bull, the Pacers put themselves in a position to win the game within regulation, period. The NBA is a game of runs and as long as you give yourself the chance to win the game at the end, then who care who dominated the 27th minute of the game.

  • Pingback: NBA Admits Refs Blew It in Final Seconds of Pacers/Nuggets Game - 8 Points, 9 Seconds