In just 6 minutes Monday night, the Indiana Pacers trailed by 21 points.
If that had happened last year, when the Pacers were scratching and clawing for baskets and trying to just be competitive with so many injured bodies out of the lineup …
“It’s a wrap,” reserve guard Rodney Stuckey conceded.
But these new-and-improved Pacers reminded once again just how far they’ve come in a short time. And how quickly they can score now. And in bunches.
The Pacers went on a rather familiar 22-0 run in that opening quarter to actually take a lead. Just last week, Indiana was on the other side of that spurt in a home loss to the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
This time, they had the momentum and made it stick. The surge increased to 39-4. The visiting Toronto Raptors were reeling in what became an impressive 106-90 Pacers victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“That’s tough. I don’t even know how to explain it,” Pacers forward C.J. Miles said. “It doesn’t happen a lot. I mean, it happened twice in this building in the last week. Golden State did it to us.”
Miles couldn’t help but laugh.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel smiled when asked if he had ever witnessed such a reversal in an opening quarter.
“I’m going to say no,” he said. “Maybe I have. It’s the NBA. Crazy things happen, in terms of runs, but it was pretty bizarre.”
The Pacers (14-9) snapped a five-game losing streak against the Raptors (16-10), who had opened the season with a 106-99 comeback home over Indiana. After falling behind this time, Toronto looked like it had been knocked out, playing on the back end of consecutive nights. The Pacers led by as many as 25 points in the final quarter.
“I usually pay attention to it, but I wasn’t aware of it,” Vogel said of the losing streak to the Raptors,. “Last year, we were overmatched against that team. We didn’t have enough to beat them.
“Tough opening night. I thought we outplayed them most of opening night. So I felt like we could compete with these guys.”
But first, Vogel needed to call two timeouts during the Raptors’ fast start. Toronto was hitting outside shots, as opposed to their NBA-best tendency of driving to the basket.
“He just got after us,” shooting guard Monta Ellis said with a smile about Vogel. “He’s a nice guy. He’s a great coach. When it’s time for him to get on us, he can do what he needs to do.”
The Raptors’ shots didn’t keep falling. The Pacers’ defense picked up and that created offensive chances.
Because two-time All-Star Paul George encountered foul trouble, this became more of a collective effort. Reserve center Jordan Hill had a team-high 20 points and 13 rebounds. Ellis scored 18, Miles 17 and George 16. Stuckey added 10 off the bench.
Vogel’s emphasis for this game was transition defense. The Pacers had allowed 29 fast-break points in a sloppy 118-96 road loss at Detroit Saturday night.
“You’re going to lose to every team you play if you do that,” the coach said.
Toronto had just three fast-break points compared to the Pacers’ 14, what Vogel obviously considered, “an improvement.”
The Pacers have won eight of their last nine at home, the lone blemish against the Warriors, and have a chance to string together some victories with Dallas and Brooklyn visiting on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
“We just need to come out with an aggressive approach,” Ellis said. “Approach the game like we’re down and let our defense lead to offense.
“We come out with that mind-set, come out and start the game out right, we can beat any team in the NBA.”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.