In an unsurprising result, the Indiana Pacers dropped their final game of a three-game road trip against the Oklahoma City Thunder. On a night when the Pacers shot 33%, turned it over 19 times, and dealt with foul trouble, they continued to show impressive fight to keep the game from getting too far out of hand.
Indiana led early, but the Thunder closed the half strong, giving them a six point halftime lead. In the third, the Pacers struggled with Russell Westbrook, who pushed the game into double figures and did all he could to keep it there for much of the rest of the night before garbage minutes widened the gap.
The second half effort from the Pacers was frustrating not for a lack of hustle, but for a lack of stops. Indiana scored on 19 possessions in the first 18 minutes of the half, and on 13 of them, the Thunder responded with points of their own. A 5-0 run was the best the Pacers could muster in the second half, which isn’t good enough in overcoming a double figure deficit.
Victor Oladipo showed out in his return to Oklahoma City, scoring a season high 35 points. Indiana as a team struggled shooting all night, but Oladipo did not, shooting 11-18 from the floor and hitting five of Indiana’s 10 three pointers. Oladipo also secured the two blocks for the Pacers.
Oladipo was given limited contributions from anyone else, however, with Darren Collison and Thaddeus Young the only two players in double figures. Young was impressively early with three threes while Collison scored 18. Despite scoring well, he had just three assists tonight on a night when the Pacers had just 13 as a team. The Thunder are clearly a much better defensive team than Minnesota, taking away the easy points from yesterday’s game.
The opposition’s defense was better, but the shooting was not. The shots Indiana made last night they missed tonight, which is to be expected, but they struggled mightily in the paint, scoring just 28 on the night. Much of the struggle was due to foul trouble for Domantas Sabonis.
Sabonis entered the game shooting over 74%, but dropped that percentage tonight after a 1-9 night. He had eight of Indiana’s 11 offensive rebounds, but many of them were Hansbrough rebounds off of his own misses. Sabonis played just 19 minutes due to fouls, and was effectively removed from the game not only physically, but mentally, after that second foul in the first.
Al Jefferson filled in as well as expected in the first half, but even he couldn’t get a scoring touch going, scoring just five on 1-4 shooting. In fact, the bench as a whole couldn’t pick up any slack with just 19 points from the main four man bench, shooting 5-21. As poorly as they played as a unit and individually, they were still better than Bojan Bogdanovic, who followed up an impressive showing with a four point night on 0-7 shooting.
Nate McMillan has done well on the season managing his rotations the best he can given the injuries to Glenn Robinson III and Myles Turner, but even still, it was a little surprising to see him go back to Bogdanovic in the fourth down 13 and nothing going. Perhaps T.J. Leaf lacks the conditioning to play through the fourth, but it could have been a good time to look at him (or elsewhere) within the rotation.
Tonight’s game was touted as one where fans of both teams would have a chance to see familiar faces, but aside from Oladipo, there wasn’t much to see of Sabonis or Paul George, for the same reasons. George also logged just 19 minutes, going to the bench routinely with foul trouble.
He finished with 10 points and one rebound, which while a disappointing showing individually, did allow the Thunder to showcase their talent at the top of the roster. While George sat and stewed, Carmelo Anthony was picking up the slack, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds, a perfect statistical companion to Westbrook’s 28/10/16 triple double.
The Pacers fall to 0-2 in second nights of back-to-backs, a familiar spot for a team that’s been woeful in such games the past few years, but both games showed a spark not present in recent years, one that makes them enjoyable to watch, even if the end results aren’t always going to be favorable.
Indiana will have a few days off before returning home on Sunday to face the San Antonio Spurs. Another tall order for the Pacers, the extra days off will hopefully bode well in getting good news regarding Turner.