Yes, it was the same old story for the Indiana Pacers, but at least A.J. Price provided his own plot twist at the end to keep things interesting.
The Pacers dropped their second road game in as many nights, and ninth roadie in a row, to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 108-102.
There were plenty of painful reminders of past losses, complete with a decent first half despite average to poor shooting. A third quarter case of the blahs that saw the Thunder begin with a 10-3 run and eventually push their six-point halftime lead to 18 late in the quarter.
The Pacers were able to reel off four late points to draw within 13 at the start of the final quarter, once again setting up a rally that brought the blue and gold tantalizingly close to a win. And by close, I mean within one point, as in 93-92 after A.J. Price splashed a 3-ball with a little over five minutes left in the game.
Yes, Price hit the key shot during winning time, scoring his 12th point of the quarter en route to a 19-point final frame. Price's game really gathered steam in the fourth quarter when he began breaking down Russell Westbrook repeatedly to get the ball in the lane. After setting up teammates with open looks only delivered mixed results (clank), the rookie started leaving the scoring in his own hands and it was fun to watch.
Price finished the game with a career-high 23 points and 3 assist on 15 shots and 3-5 from behind the arc. Those two 3-point misses were big and could be classified as ill-advised shots with the team still only down four late in the game. The main problem though, centered around Price not getting the help he needed down the stretch in order for the Pacers to steal this win on the road.
In particular, Danny Granger's head-scratching play with the game in the balance put a damper on Price's big night.I realize Granger is returning from several weeks on the shelf, so his game isn't firing on all cylinders yet, but some of the plays he made down the stretch had more to do with the mental side of the game as opposed to the physical. His decisions to pull deep three-pointers (and miss) with plenty of time remaining and the Pacers within four points, just weren't smart plays.
Then there was the foul on Kevin Durant out on the perimeter when Granger just was too aggressive and got up into Durant for an obvious foul. Durant's a pretty good free throw shooter. Durant actually missed a couple free throws on the night but still made 14 of 16, including the two after Granger's foul.
There are times when Granger doesn't have his shot going, like tonight (6-21 FGs), and you can tell he's pressing to make something happen. He just doesn't have the savvy in his game to find a way to get it done. No go-to move to get to the hoop, or ability to draw a foul when the defense doesn't want to foul. Right now, his fall-back plan is always to jack a 3-ball and so far this year that plan hasn't worked.
- Granger did score 25 points on those 21 FGAs thanks to making 9-13 from the free throw line. Hard to complain about a 25-point night, but Granger continues to play more like an NBA number two option than one when he can't carry the team home in a game like tonight. On the other side, Kevin Durant did everything the Thunder needed to close out the win which included 40 points on 18 FGAs and 12 rebounds.
- T.J. Ford was on the inactive list tonight. After Price's night, Jim O'Brien may consider letting Price start and let Watson run things off the bench.
- Speaking of the bench, part of that familiar story line included the negative +/- numbers for the starters compared to the + numbers for the players off the bench. Luther Head (-16), Roy Hibbert (-11) and Earl Watson (-14) didn't play at all down the stretch as Jim O'Brien stuck with his guys off the bench that were producing, which meant Price (+8), Mike Dunleavy (+10) and Brandon Rush (+10) all played at crunch time.
- Troy Murphy played a ton of minutes (37+) in his second game back from a sprained ankle and put up his normal double-double numbers with 15 points and 15 rebounds although he, too was pretty quiet down the stretch.
- The Pacers defense throughout the game gave up too many open looks for a solid-shooting Thunder team. OKC made over 51% of their FGAs and were able to get to the line 37 times compared to the Pacers 25 FTAs.
- Shot selection wasn't just Danny Granger's problem. I'd say every Pacer that played forced a wrinkled brow or three at different times during the game. The team shot 26 3-pointers but only made 10, often settling for the 3-ball with the offense bogged down. OKC should get some of that credit as they played up to the league rank of #7 in defensive efficiency.