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Golden State Warriors Andre Iguodala passes over Indiana Pacers Roy Hibbert during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)

OAKLAND -- The Warriors met the NBA's standard-bearers Monday night, the Indiana Pacers, and found out just how far they have to climb to reach their elite level.

Still a little ways to go, clearly, but that's better than the long ways it appeared to be early on. Indiana jumped to a 14-point first quarter lead, boosted it to 20 early in the third quarter, then had to withstand a furious Warriors charge to escape Oracle Arena with a 102-94 victory.

Golden State got back to within two points, 79-77, when Harrison Barnes connected on a 3-point basket with 9:52 to go in the game. The Warriors, who already have seven double-digit comeback wins this season -- including four by 15 points or more -- appeared poised to post one against the team with the best record in the league.

But just as the Warriors were primed to complete the rally, the Pacers repelled their surges. Ultimately, dagger 3-pointers down the stretch by Lance Stephenson and George Hill staved off the Golden State comeback, and the Warriors were left to reflect on the deep hole they dug.

"They made an effort to assert themselves early, and I don't know if we didn't show up, but we just didn't have any kind of punch early in the game," said Stephen Curry, who led Warriors with 24 points and nine assists.

But if the Pacers, at 33-7, are the measuring stick for the rest of the league, the Warriors were far from discouraged in the wake of the defeat.

"They're playing great basketball and they showed that tonight, but we're right there," Curry said. "(We're) a team that has potential to do some great things this year if we can figure out that last little bit of consistency. We've shown it in spots, and 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."

Indeed, the Warriors have lost six games at home, but pretty much all to heavyweights -- San Antonio, Portland, Houston, Memphis (with Marc Gasol), Denver and now Indiana. At least when they lose, they don't lose to chumps.

"(The Pacers) are a team built for a championship, you can see that," Andrew Bogut said. "We're close, but we're not there yet. Our start was dismal, and then I thought the next three quarters we competed a little better and played our style of basketball. But the first quarter cost us."

Indiana outscored Golden State 35-21 in the opening period, and it wasn't necessarily a case of poor defense. The Pacers came out hot, but they also were clearly more ready to set the tone than were the hosts.

"I thought early on they got it going, played with more force, and the scoreboard reflected that," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "When we met their intensity level and began to execute, good things happened.

"We made mistakes, gave up 17 offensive rebounds while turning the ball over, and we were still in the ballgame. When we begin to take care of the little things, it's going to be scary how good we can be."

For now, it's the Pacers who are scary. Paul George scored 14 of his 24 points in the opening quarter to get things rolling, but ultimately it was a balanced attack that doomed the Warriors. All five Indiana starters scored in double figures, and all hurt Golden State at different times. David West backed George with 17, Hill had 15 and Roy Hibbert and Stephenson 14 apiece.

David Lee had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Warriors, and Klay Thompson added 17.

  • Bogut banged knees with an Indiana player in the fourth quarter and had to come out of the game, but he returned. Despite his right knee being heavily wrapped after the game, he said he was OK.

  • All-Star voting ended Monday night, and the Warriors will learn Thursday if Curry is their first All-Star starter since 1995.

    "David Lee made a statement last year becoming an All-Star," Jackson said. "For Steph to become a starter would be another win for the good guys. It definitely means something, because of the starting and getting the fan vote. I'd be very pleased, because people raised the bar for him after last year, and he has not disappointed."

  • Jackson spoke eloquently before the game about Martin Luther King Jr. in honor of the holiday.

    "I'm not sitting here if he did not have a dream, and (if) he didn't fight for that dream," Jackson said. "I'm forever indebted. He's a man who put his family on the front line and sacrificed. I don't say that just as an African-American man. I think we all owe a big thank you to him because this is certainly a better place today."

    Friday's game

    Minnesota (19-21) at Warriors (26-17), 7:30 p.m. CSNBA