Losses like this stick with you. The Pacers led by 14 points early in the third quarter when they committed five consecutive turnovers that put the Thunder right back in it. These are the nights that are difficult to put into words. Russell Westbrook was unbelievable and had 43-8-8. They're easy to overreact to and focus on what went wrong. The Pacers struggled on the offensive glass and were outscored by 18 at the free throw line. They’re easy to overreact and forget about what went right. Indiana let this one get away. There’s nothing I can look back on in this game that makes me think Oklahoma City should’ve gotten out of Indianapolis with a win. But they did. The Pacers had this game on lockdown, but they lost. They really shouldn’t have, but they did.
Josh McRoberts had seven first quarter points, which helped push forward a see-saw first quarter that was broken wide open by three James Posey three pointers in the second quarter. The Pacers had no intention of looking back, capping a 34-21 second quarter that put the Pacers up eight points heading into the locker rooms.
All was looking up. Both teams had their stretches, but Indiana was responding well to everything Oklahoma City threw at them, and likewise, the Thunder managed to keep it within striking distance. Amazingly, Kevin Durant had only six points at halftime, where his partner in crime, Russell Westbrook had 14 in an unstoppable manner. I felt the team was in good position. Durant was being held in check thanks to superb defense from Brandon Rush and Danny Granger, to the point where I was fine cutting losses on what Westbrook was doing in order to keep Durant out of the zone.
The Pacers made no shy effort to push the tempo in the third quarter, getting Roy Hibbert six early points to push the lead to 64-50. Scott Brooks called a timeout, and the wheels fell off. The Thunder got a lot of moves to the basket. The Pacers turned it over...on five consecutive trips. Within three minutes, the 14 point lead was down to three. The Pacers pushed it back up to seven, and held it there, firmly, taking a five point lead into the final quarter.
Danny Granger scored the first four points in the quarter, desperately weathering the Thunder storm, headed by Westbrook, who was an unstoppable force, an unguardable deity. The Thunder slowly worked it back. The inching comeback became tenser before Westbrook put the Thunder up. The Pacers battled back thanks to Granger and Roy Hibbert, before Durant and Westbrook guided the Thunder into overtime.
The Thunder held the slight edge in overtime before Darren Collison, struggling all night with Westbrook and frustration, made a circus shot going to the line. He would miss the free throw, but it would eventually put Brandon Rush at the line, where he would go just one of two. The Thunder took advantage, getting just enough from Durant and Westbrook to put it down. Down five with just eight seconds left, Mike Dunleavy forces a three pointer to put it within two. Westbrook goes about pushing Dunleavy to the floor, and in getting away with the foul, got away with the win.
There’s just a lot of disappointment in this one, but when we jump, we’ll look at it, so prepare for it from the top:
- Danny Granger played great. He ended up with 30 points, came up big down the stretch, and when he didn’t, he was likely fouled, but Oklahoma City got away with quite a bit as the game wound down. Granger got to the line seven times, which is key, as he’s not been as focused getting to the line as he needs to be. It’s nowhere near the love the Thunder get at getting to the line, but it’s hopefully a start.
- Roy Hibbert played great as well. The big fella ended up with 19 and 10, and abused the smaller Oklahoma City frontcourt. He was big down low all night, and when he wasn’t getting the ball in the basket, he was likely getting fouled himself, but I digress from the questionable lack of calls on Indiana’s side from here. The real issue involving Roy was Indiana not going to him every possession. Even if he wasn’t going to shoot the ball, he was drawing double, even triple team towards the end of the game, surely, putting someone in position to make a play. The offense has to absolutely work on recognizing Roy as an advantage and using him as such.
- Darren Collison had a frustrating night. He picked up his first five fouls in a haze; he couldn’t keep up with Westbrook in transition (to be fair, no one could), he couldn’t guard Westbrook without committing a foul (to be fair, no one could), and did let it affect his overall decision making. All in all, he had a respectable game for his lack of being in it completely, finishing with a modest 10-5.
- Brandon Rush wasn’t the offensive juggernaut he’s been recently, though he did play well when making a move. His work was a success on the defensive end. He did a great job with Granger in keeping Durant in check for most of the game. Durant ended up with 25, but did so on an inefficient 26 shots. Him and the second unit deserve a lot of credit tonight. While the lineup of Solomon Jones, Rush, Posey, Dunleavy, and T.J. Ford should make me a little ill, they were big in the third quarter at keeping the Thunder at bay as they worked in their comeback.
- James Posey was big in the first half, hitting three triples to put the Pacers up. He also made some great moves on his man defensively to create a turnover. He did struggle however in not letting his man get a rebound, as the Thunder ate up the offensive glass in the first half; second chance points being the only thing keeping the Thunder in the game. The Pacers shot 6-11 in the first half deep, but it came back to them, finishing 2-11.
- Josh McRoberts finally got some offense going tonight, finishing with 13 points, including an early three pointer. The Pacers really succeeded down low, but unlike against Miami, they didn’t work down there often enough. And they still worked in the paint a lot, scoring 44 inside, but they still didn’t go there enough.
- Former Indiana University standout D.J. White has found his way into Oklahoma City’s rotation. He made numerous hustle contributions in the first half tonight. Likewise, Tyler Hansbrough finished up with a DNP-CD to his name.
The Pacers really let this one get away. I just can’t get over how every thing about this one stinks, and how it just doesn’t sit right with me. The Pacers drop to 1-4 in games decided by five points or less, a disgusting reminder that this team still can’t close out games, much like their 2008-09 counterparts. Things certainly feel right. This team isn’t a fluke, but they’ve got to start winning close games. I just don’t know what more they can do. They did well tonight. They played very well tonight. A better team came into Conseco Fieldhouse, and didn't deserve to leave with the win. That’s what Indiana has to live with, because this is the fourth time a team, better or not, has come into Conseco Fieldhouse, and didn't deserve to leave with a win and did because the Pacers just couldn’t do it.
And honestly, I don’t know what happens in close games. They can close out games in big fashion. But they’re not able to do the same in close games. It perplexes me a bit, but yet…it can’t be dwelled on for too long, because the Pacers, now 7-7, get to head west, where the Los Angeles Lakers are awaiting them on Sunday, and after losing tonight, they aren’t going to be playing around. The Lakers losing puts Pacers opponents 2-13 in games before facing Indiana. Maybe this has to play some factor in how teams approach their games against the blue and gold, and are getting a better shot due to these losses. I don’t know. I just know that this loss really hurts, more so than any other so far this season. Indiana has to get this closing out deal under control before too many more get away like this.