The most important win of the season (to date) for the Indiana Pacers was also one of the season's most exciting with Indiana coming up big while fighting an uphill battle against a monumental individual effort against Russell Westbrook and his Oklahoma City Thunder. The Pacers withstood 54 points from Westbrook, who on the night shot 21-43 from the floor to go along with nine rebounds and eight assists.
But though Westbrook neared yet another triple double, it was largely a one-man show for Oklahoma City, who relied on Westbrook as option one, option two, and often option four. Westbrook's plan to carve up the Indiana defense worked well, with Westbrook scoring 22 points in the first quarter, but Indiana did well to keep pace with Westbrook's scoring, getting nine first quarter points from Roy Hibbert, as well as Paul George's first dunk of the season.
The Thunder led 32-29 after the first quarter and pushed their lead to seven early in the second with Indiana missing everything from the field. But despite missing their first eight shots of the quarter, the Pacers were able to claw back in at the line, with the Thunder going scoreless for four minutes without Westbrook. The Pacers regained the lead before Westbrook scored again leading to the teams exchanging leads when Indiana closed the half strong, leading 56-51.
In the third, the Pacers withstood more pushes from Westbrook and the Thunder, opening up a 73-62 lead. Oklahoma City responded with three straight threes, using an 11-1 run to cut the lead to one, but as was the case all night, Indiana had a response for every push, with George Hill hitting a three of his own to halt the run and put Indiana back in control late in the third.
Paul George had his roughest game of the season, he strayed from Anthony Morrow often and did a poor job finding separation from Morrow on the other end. With the offense looking for George, it bogged things down for the Pacers in stretches in the third. Even still, on the final possession of the third, George showed why he was on the floor, kicking in a bank three to put Indiana ahead 82-76.
The three kickstarted good play from George to open the fourth, who put in his second dunk off of an offensive rebound, also picking up a hockey assist on a great dish to Ian Mahinmi, who flipped to Lavoy Allen for a big two that gave Indiana an 88-81 lead as George exited.
Westbrook responded with seven points of his own to tie the game at 88-88, forcing Indiana's hand once again to respond to a push by Westbrook. Rodney Stuckey took the call to hit a three, starting a 12-0 run, including two threes, a three point play, and a technical foul shot (the technical was on Westbrook, his 16th, forcing him out of Oklahoma City's final home game unless it's rescinded).
The technical led to George Hill putting in a huge and one. The Pacers led by 10 when Westbrook made one last run, scoring nine straight Thunder points, cutting the lead to three at 102-99. Indiana was hold off further advances from Westbrook, who missed his next two shots leading Hibbert to pushing the lead to five. A pair of Hill free throws gave Indiana a six point lead.
Westbrook's last stand drew the game to four when C.J. Miles hit his sixth three pointer on the night to sink a dagger on the Thunder, who didn't score in the final minute as the Pacers closed out the well earned 116-104 win. On the night, Indiana shot a 53%, which was needed on a night Westbrook refused to be guarded. Even still, Oklahoma City did their fair share of giving the game away, shooting a ridiculously woeful 11-39 from the line.
Westbrook missed four himself, but the Thunder were just 4-28 without his contributions, including 0fer nights from Steven Adams (0-6) and Dion Waiters (0-4). Oklahoma City's free throw shooting helped Indiana given Indiana's lackluster showing at the line themselves. The Pacers were 22-35 from the line, including late misses from David West with the game notched at 102-99.
Indiana needed a heavy dose from their starters tonight with no bench player reaching double figures. Luis Scola had nine points, but he and Ian Mahinmi each had four fouls. Both Paul George and Rodney Stuckey were 3-9 from the field for eight points, but helped with big shots in the second half. Both rebounded well with six and seven boards respectively, including three offensive boards from George.
C.J. Miles led Indiana with 30 points, heating up after a somewhat slow start, hitting six three pointers as part of a 9-14 night, getting his first double double of the season with 10 rebounds. Roy Hibbert also picked up a double double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, going at Enes Kanter on the offensive end for 7-12 shooting, but also being a big time difference maker at the rim defensively. It was Hibbert in All-Star form, something that has eluded Hibbert and the Pacers since he was last named to the All-Star team.
David West rebounded from poor shooting nights with a 6-8 night for 13 points despite being limited all night with foul trouble. George Hill was big in the fourth, scoring nine of his 19 in the quarter, including six in the final two minutes to close out the Thunder. He also had seven assists.
Indiana not only won, but got help in the form of the Brooklyn Nets getting handled in Milwaukee, pushing Indiana into a tie for the 8th seed. While the Nets still hold the tiebreaker, getting that first of two games out of the way with two games remaining was crucial for Indiana, who will still need to win, but can keep a close eye on Brooklyn's play tomorrow night when they face the Bulls.
For Indiana, they'll be off until Tuesday, when they play their final home game of the regular season against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards have the fifth seed tied up, but with no love loss from the Wizards about how things went last spring in the second round, it gives Washington an extra bit of motivation to spoil Indiana's late season push.