The overall level of play was there for the Indiana Pacers, but it was the defensive effort that fell short against the Oklahoma City Thunder, sending Indiana into the loss column for the third time in four games. The Pacers stormed out to a 13-2 lead, but the Thunder offense was on point in the first point, turning the game in their favor, taking a 64-54 lead into the break after scoring 37 in the second quarter.
Paul George had a monster third quarter, scoring 19 for the Pacers, as they slowly inched their way back into the game thanks to an ability to come up with crucial stops. Indiana held a 96-92 lead early in the fourth, but Randy Foye and Kevin Durant responded with a 14-2 run to go up eight. It wasn't until George exploded again that the Pacers had one final gasp in the closing minutes.
George had eight straight Pacers points in the final two minutes to help pull Indiana to within four. A bad pass and foul by Durant set up George Hill on the free throw line with a chance to pull Indiana to within two with 35 seconds remaining. Hill would split the trip, however, and after a stop by Indiana, the miss would create a more difficult shot out of a timeout. A slow developing play would set George for a contested three that went awry, dropping Indiana 115-111 by the time everything was sorted out.
While the clutch free throw miss was frustratingly expected, George Hill did have a solid all around game, scoring 20 points with three threes and nine assists. Hill was the primary scoring support for a monster night from George, but it was the lack of tertiary support that doomed Indiana on a night Hill helped limit Russell Westbrook to 14 points on 4-16 shooting.
Myles Turner, Ian Mahinmi, and Monta Ellis all reached double figures, but barely with Ellis leading the way with 11. The three all shot below 50%, the front line not providing enough rebounding resistance on a night the Pacers were outworked on the glass by 11. But even those may have been enough had the bench offered much of anything.
By simply blinking, it was easy to miss any reserve players even being on the floor. Rodney Stuckey led the way with eight, but the bench had just 14 points while Oklahoma City got 45 points, including double figure nights from Enes Kanter (15) and Randy Foye (12). Ultimately for the Thunder, it was the shot making abilities of Durant that proved enough for them, who had 33 points, but more importantly, was there to respond to George's big play in the second half.
As for Paul George, he had his best game in some time, scoring a home-career high 45 points. George's shooting night dipped below 50% by the end of the game, but he worked his way to the line at will, going 13-15 from the stripe, hitting four three pointers, including a huge four point play that pushed Indiana to within four late. George had seven boards and four assists to add on top of that.
The Pacers needed this sort of effort from George to have enough, but unfortunately it wasn't enough against an Oklahoma City team that shot 52% for the game. The loss stings, simply being a close one late makes it a tough loss, though the biggest concern is how it pushes Indiana to just a half game over eighth place Detroit and still three back for 6th.
On the bright side, tonight's effort was enough to beat most teams in the league, which should favor Indiana as the schedule eases up down the stretch. The Pacers play just one winning team in their next eight games, six of those at home. Indiana taking care of business can get on a roll with hopefully Ty Lawson's return sparking Indiana as they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.