INDIANAPOLIS — Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors spent the first three quarters playing as flawlessly as their unbeaten record.
They spent the last 12 minutes Tuesday trying to protect their perfect quest.
On a night Thompson scored a season-high 39 points and reigning MVP Stephen Curry nearly had a triple-double, the Warriors improved to 23-0 by stopping Indiana’s furious fourth-quarter comeback and holding off the Pacers 131-123.
“We’ve got to handle the end of the game better. We had a double-digit lead. You don’t ever want to have to win the game twice or even three times,” Curry said. “You want to make things as easy as possible when you have a night like we did for 36 minutes.”
The defending NBA champions have made things look pretty easy in what has already been a milestone season.
They’ve won 27 straight dating to last spring, tying the 2012-13 Heat for the second-longest streak in NBA history. The 1971-72 Lakers hold the record with 33 wins in a row.
Golden State also has won 13 straight road games, breaking a tie with the 1969-70 Knicks for the league’s best road start.
Curry, the league’s leading scorer, finished with 29 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and three 3-pointers, tying Rashard Lewis’ NBA record of 87 consecutive road games with at least one basket from beyond the arc.
Thompson went 10 for 16 on 3s. He made a splash with his incredible first half when he scored 29 points, made 8 of 10 3s and was the key to a 22-0 run that forced Indiana to play catch-up the rest of the night.
“It was one of those nights where I got a lot of great looks. Going in I felt great,” Thompson said. “I felt like I was due for a game like that.”
For the Warriors there were only two big concerns.
Thompson rolled his ankle late in the game and said afterward he expected to be bruised for the next couple of days. Fortunately for Thompson, Golden State doesn’t play again till Friday at Boston.
The other: Letting Indiana back into the game.
Golden State led 50-28 in the second quarter, extended the lead to 32 in the third quarter, started the fourth quarter with a 28-point advantage and was still up by 21 with 7:11 left in the game.
But Indiana (12-8) rallied with a 23-8 run to get within six in the final minute before the Warriors closed it out.
Paul George finished with 33 points, eight rebounds and six assists while C.J. Miles added 24 points — not enough to prevent the Pacers from losing their third in a row.
“This team is good. One thing about them, they’ve got a championship confidence,” George said. “Every guy is out there to make plays. They know how to put the ball in the hole. It’s not just Stephen, it’s not just Klay. All of them had that confidence to make plays and make shots.”
Despite Golden State’s late struggles, it may be the NBA’s best at protecting leads. The Warriors have won 76 consecutive games when they lead by 15 or more points.
Indiana tied a dubious franchise record in its NBA era by allowing 44 first-quarter points and barely avoided another record-breaking defensive low when it trailed 79-60 at the half. The only other time the Pacers gave up 44 points in the opening quarter was at Chicago in December 1990. They also allowed a franchise-worst 80 points in the first half at the Lakers in November 1978. It was the first time Indiana allowed 130 points in a game since Jan. 3, 2010 against the Knicks.
Warriors interim coach Luke Walton has noticed some not-so-subtle changes around the league. A lot of teams, including the Pacers, are trying to take a page out of the Warriors’ small-ball playbook. Good luck. Before the game, Pacers coach Frank Vogel noted Indiana’s new up-tempo style was “light years” behind Golden State, and it showed.
Warriors: Golden State has shot 45 percent or better 20 times this season. … The Warriors have topped the 100-point mark in all 23 games this season, the first time they’ve done that since 1966-67. … The Warriors are the first franchise in the four major pro sports leagues to have 16-game winning streaks in consecutive seasons.
Pacers: Indiana has lost three straight for the first time since starting the season 0-3. … In the previous 16 games, the Pacers had limited opponents to 96.9 points and 32.8 percent shooting on 3s. … George came up one point short of notching his 5,000th career point. … The Pacers were 14 of 33 on 3s.
Warriors visit Celtics on Friday.
Pacers host Heat on Friday.