The Pacers let the Oklahoma City Thunder off the hook in the teams’ previous meeting in November, but you wouldn’t know it from tonight’s game, even though the Thunder entered on a three game losing streak. The Pacers were blindsided early, and put away quickly as the Thunder got to enjoy an easy win, even if it may have cost them their franchise player.
Indiana got off on the wrong foot very quickly as the Thunder stormed out to a 10-0 lead that ballooned up to 16-2 as the early problems became all night problems: the Pacers had no hope inside. The Thunder made it an effort to make every Pacers shot difficult, and it began at the rim. Credit to the Pacers for taking drives at the rim and looking for high percentage shots, but Oklahoma City quickly made them low percentage.
Despite the struggles in the first quarter, the Pacers managed to draw the game back to within seven, and trailed only nine after the first, despite shooting 5-23 from the floor. Indiana did a solid job turning those tough plays into free throw trips. However, once the second quarter began, the Thunder didn’t budge to the Pacers, and pushed their lead to 21 at halftime. The Pacers got an opportunity to close the gap in the third quarter. During a three minute stretch where Oklahoma City went scoreless, Indiana closed the gap to 16 with a chance to make it 14.
But Russell Westbrook forced one of 17 Indiana turnovers, swiping Danny Granger and going yard for a basket that ended up being a failed three point play attempt. That would effectively put a nail in the coffin for Indiana, who would find themselves down by as many as 35 points. Kevin Durant left the game due to injury late in the third quarter after running into an immovable Tyler Hansbrough, and would eventually be Paul Pierce’d back to the locker room and would not return.
A lot of this one was decided early and Pacers fans were reminded of the shortcomings often. Serge Ibaka finished with six blocks for the Thunder, all opportune and timely blocks that killed Pacer momentum; Nazr Mohammed continued his dominance of Roy Hibbert; the Thunder outscored the Pacers 20-2 in fastbreak points in the first half. It was a merciless beating by a very good basketball team, hungry to break their losing streak and focused on doing so.
After the jump, the difference in young squads made apparent:
- Lance Stephenson got plenty of garbage time in the fourth quarter to show his worth, and certainly showed why his absence from the rotation had been largely due to his now dismissed legal troubles and not actual playing abilities. Stephenson offered some positives offensively, played as well as anyone else did defensively, and at least offered some kind of positive for a night completely filled with negatives. Stephenson finished with 11 points and 6 rebounds, and found his way to the line for six attempts. It’s becoming easier to see why the Pacers front office is so high on him. If he can piece it all together? We could be in for a pretty solid player.
- Darren Collison got beaten up everywhere tonight. His head must’ve been dizzy from the overall lack of contact he was taking trying to make something happen offensively and repeatedly taking it to the rim, because he made some really odd passes and plays, but still finished with a (near) team high 11 points on just 2-11 shooting. He got to the line seven times, and though he wasn’t very good, he was at least as good as anyone else tonight.
- Danny Granger made a solid disappearing act tonight when he was saddled right out of the gate with two fouls, limiting his play and throwing his rhythm. Granger couldn’t find anything all night, not the basket, not even the free throw line. He went 3-11 from the field for just 9 points. But then again, not even a great night from Granger changes much about the outcome of this one.
- Tyler Hansbrough, when not forcing injuries on the opposing team’s franchise talent, was terribly inefficient in a Tyler Hansbrough kind of way. He finished with a team high 13 (for the record, three Thunder players ended with 20+) on 4-16 shooting. Sense a trend with the shooting? The Pacers ended up just 34.1% from the field and couldn’t get anything all night. Defensively, Hansbrough was run around by a Thunder lineup featuring four guards, and couldn’t keep up with Daequan Cook, a matchup the Pacers weren’t terribly focused on countering.
- Roy Hibbert was once again beaten by his kryptonite Nazr Mohammed, and the beatdown came early. Roy didn’t look comfortable, but managed to finish with 12 rebounds to go alongside 9 points. Meanwhile, Josh McRoberts led the Pacers with five assists in his limited foul saddled minutes.
- It’s hard to say for sure if the Goon Squad was effective or not, after all, the Pacers were out of this one early, but two of the team’s three real surges were aided by Goon Squad or Goon Squad members. Dahntay Jones seemed primed to have a big night, as he finished 4-5 in 12 points, but he was quickly saddled with foul trouble in trying to keep pace with a hungry Thunder team, like with Granger, limiting his effectiveness early.
- Paul George helped exemplify the night for both Indiana units (blurred by early foul trouble). The rookie made a big steal in the first quarter as the Pacers trailed just seven, but failure to keep a tight handle on the ball resulted in James Harden taking it right back for a pair of free throws. George shot better, but struggled defensively against Harden (who appeared revitalized after the Jeff Green trade) and made some poor passes. He was involved in the most humorous play of the night, where Thunder guard Royal Ivey used Stephenson as a prop to foul George on a shot attempt. Who says there’s no joy in the darkest of times?
The Pacers managed to scrape together enough of an effort to keep this from being the team’s biggest defeat of the season, but it was still probably their worst effort of the year. They were blindsided by the Thunder early and beaten down at every sign of life. The Thunder were primed to win tonight, and it showed. While the Pacers are building their team through the draft much in the same way the Thunder have, the difference in building is obvious.
Being honest, the Pacers have drafted well and gotten some good young players on this year’s team, but the Thunder are successful because there is absolutely no substitute for top five talent in the NBA. Oklahoma City was led by three top five draft picks tonight. The Pacers only had one top ten pick on the active roster tonight; Paul George, a rookie, who was taken tenth.