Boos filled the arena as Paul George was introduced first in the Thunder’s starting lineup announcements, and fans could tell from tip-off that the game was going to be an emotional one. Oklahoma City has not played particularly well since last facing the Pacers on October 25th, a 114-96 win, while Indiana has looked pretty solid behind Victor Oladipo.
Tonight, the Thunder jumped on the board first behind a Carmelo Anthony three, but Indiana wasted no time in putting up shots from beyond the perimeter themselves. After some back and forth in the first half of the period, the Pacers went on a 7-0 run to take a 21-16 lead behind five made three-pointers. Oklahoma City would pace Indiana to finish the quarter, but a buzzer-beater by Lance Stephenson seemed like an early gut punch for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook only scored two points in the first quarter, but he grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists, and Steven Adams put up eight points and four rebounds. After 12 minutes in Indiana, Oklahoma City trailed 22-27.
Billy Donovan decided to go with an all-bench lineup on the floor for the second consecutive game, and this time, it went in the Thunder’s favor. The Oklahoma City backups would outscore Indiana 9-3 in the first three minutes of the period behind five points from Josh Huestis and four points from Jerami Grant to make it 31-30 in favor of the Thunder.
Indiana would then run off six straight points, and Oklahoma City’s starter would trickle back in. Steven Adams continued to tear things up to bring his first half totals to 15 points and seven rebounds, Carmelo Anthony would knock down a couple of shots to give him eight points for the half, and Paul George would finally knock down a couple of field goals to give him seven points through twenty-four minutes. Westbrook did not score in the second quarter, but he would finish the half with two points, nine assists, and 11 rebounds as the Thunder would outscore the Pacers 20-10 in the final seven minutes of the quarter. At the half, Oklahoma City led 51-46.
Oklahoma City came out of the locker room at the half and jumped right into another typical third quarter performance. The offense looked stagnant with very little ball movement, and two consecutive turnovers by Westbrook and a bad shot by Paul George capped an 11-2 start for the Pacers as Billy Donovan had to take a timeout three-and-a-half minutes into the period.
Out of the timeout, the Thunder would score and start to get back on track. Oklahoma City and Indiana would go back and forth for the rest of the quarter, and after a few threes from the Thunder and some more solid play from Adams, Oklahoma City would lead Indiana 73-69 with one quarter to play.
The all-bench lineup of Raymond Felton, Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant, and Patrick Patterson started off the fourth quarter, and they continued to play well together. The Pacers were working hard to cut into their deficit, but the Thunder bench kept pushing back and helped maintain the lead until Oklahoma City’s starters could check back in.
With the starters back on the floor, the Thunder simply needed to stay in control and finish out the game, and it looked like that would be the case. With just a little over five minutes to go, Oklahoma City held their largest lead of the night at 92-81. However, Victor Oladipo, who was not having a particularly solid night, started to pick up his play, and he managed to get the Pacers right back in the thick of it.
The Thunder were doing everything they could to hold on to a 98-95 lead, and with 15 seconds left, Josh Huestis appeared to take a charge to give Oklahoma City the ball. After a replay review, the call was overturned, and the Pacers had a chance, all of a sudden. On the inbounds play, Steven Adams disrupted a pass, and Paul George was able to steal it. He was fouled, proceeded to hit two free throws, and effectively sealed the game. Oklahoma City would escape Indiana with a 100-95 victory.
3 Quick Thoughts
- “Big 3” Continue to Shoot Poorly: Perhaps the worst part of a game that had plenty of ups and downs was the fact that the Thunder’s supposed three best players simply cannot find any type of positive rhythm in their shooting. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony combined for a mere 34 points on an awful 10/45 (22.2%) shooting night. Westbrook did tally his ninth triple-double of the season with 10 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists, but he shot a team-worst 3/17 (17.6%), which is also a season-low for him. Thankfully, other guys were able to step up and knock down shots, but these three have to figure out their issues.
- The Bench Can Ball: A big issue with the Thunder has been their inability to get any scoring from the bench. That was not the case tonight. While no bench player finished in double digits, they combined for 29 on 10/19 (52.6%) from the field, which is well above their season-average of 23.4, which is the second-worst in the NBA. Jerami Grant led the way with nine points, Patrick Patterson hit a couple of threes and finished with eight points, Josh Huestis had five, Raymond Felton had four, and Terrance Ferguson had three. If they can continue to play at this level, especially with no starters on the floor, the Thunder will be in a much better position to win games.
- Defense Still Needs Work: So much of the Thunder’s success has come from their ability to defend at a high level. While they are still trying to get back to .500 on the season, it’s pretty obvious that they are going to rely heavily on the defensive side of the ball on a night-to-night basis. With the absence of Andre Roberson for the second consecutive game, Oklahoma City failed to effectively guard the perimeter early tonight. Indiana started the game 5/7 (71.4%) from deep, and all five makes were wide open looks. The Pacers went on to make just 6/24 (25%) the rest of the night to finish 11/31 (35.4%), but some of those makes came in clutch situations for Indiana. Whether Roberson is good to go on Friday night or not, the Thunder need to defend the three on a high level. The 76ers are the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA, so Oklahoma City needs to take advantage of that.
On to Philly
The Thunder stay on the road as they move on to take on the 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday. The 76ers are 14-13 and are coming off a 118-112 overtime victory over the Timberwolves in Minnesota. The game will tip off at 6 PM and will be televised on FSOK and ESPN. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Be sure to check out our latest episode of “Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.”
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.