What happens when the most anticipated game of the season turns out to be a dud? The Indiana Pacers seem to be taking the approach of calling it one game and moving on. This is fair to say, but the return of Paul George to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the first time since forcing his way out of Indiana two days after telling Pacers fans he was committed to them guaranteed it would become more than one game.
Unfortunately for the game itself, it just ended up being a dud. The Pacers played poorly, but so too did the Oklahoma City Thunder. Both teams struggled all night to find any real footing on the game and the only consistency came in the form of Steven Adams cleaning up rebounds with a fury to help him to 23 points.
That’s not to say the game was with its fireworks:
Lance Stephenson’s step back jumper to go up 27-22 ended up high water mark for the Pacers in this game, as it shifted quickly into a slog from there, with the Oklahoma City big three coming through (that’s rebounding, role players, and defense to be clear) early and often for the win.
The game first shifted into OKC’s favor to start the second with the Thunder second unit scoring the first nine of the quarter. Indiana’s response (a 9-0 run of their own) put them back up five, but the table was set for the Thunder role players to find confidence in staying alive.
Though they only outscored Indiana’s bench minimally at 29-27, all five of the Thunder bench players shot 50% or better. This was crucial in gaining an upper-hand not only against Indiana’s second unit (which also saw all bench players shooting 50% or better), but in giving the Thunder better reprieve from their top talent.
Needing guys to step up was the deciding factor in a game where all the players to tune in for had poor nights. Sure Russell Westbrook shot himself into a 10/17/12 triple double, but was just 3-17 from the floor and never appeared to impose his will on the game. It did pair well with a 4-14 shooting night from Carmelo Anthony and a 3-14 night from George.
The trio of All-Stars combined for just 34 points total, less than Adams and Alex Abrines, the two biggest contributors to Oklahoma City’s victory. Adams doubled his game high 23 points with 13 rebounds, nine of those coming on the offensive glass. The Thunder had 17 offensive rebounds, including the game sealing putback from Abrines after he had hit four threes in the game.
On George, it was clear he appeared uncomfortable with the crowd booing him every time he touched the ball, but as he did in games with the Pacers, he still managed to make his impact felt on the defensive end despite being a non-factor offensively. He was a big part late in the game as the Pacers, trailing by three with 15 seconds left, turned the ball over after a sloppy inbounds to George, allowing him to ice the win.
All of this highlights just how winnable the game was for the Pacers even despite the play from Oklahoma City’s role players, but their own struggles compounded whatever opportunities they had. This ultimately materialized in the form of a massive free throw disparity, with the Thunder outshooting Indiana 24-6 from the line.
The disparity looks bad, but the Thunder did do well to limit their fouls on the Pacers. Indiana had 44 points in the paint, but their success in the paint was easy; success on putbacks of their own and their ability to switch Anthony onto Victor Oladipo in pick and rolls, but it was when they were held out of the paint that they were unable to work their way into it for foul calls. Oladipo in particular attacked with abandon, which allowed the OKC defense to keep him off the line.
With the Thunder All-Stars struggling, the Pacers were having their own issues with their All-Star hopeful Oladipo struggling as well. He finished with 19 points, but did so on just 9-26 shooting. The shots he had been making of late, quick pull-up threes, weren’t even close tonight. He was just 1-9 from deep.
It’s obviously not been a recipe for success for the Pacers; they’re now just 1-5 when Oladipo shoots under 40%. For all of the excitement Oladipo has brought the Pacers, it’s nights when he’s off that showcase how far the roster needs to come in order to overcome this. Unfortunately, no one had the game necessary to push them over the top.
Myles Turner and Darren Collison combined for the first 14 points of the game for the Pacers, but struggled to contribute beyond that, scoring just nine points together in the game’s final 43 minutes. Collison had just three assists as well, with ball movement being an issue for the Pacers, which is an odd direction to go given how well it tends to work for them.
Turner had three blocks, but just four rebounds, one defensive as he struggled to keep Adams in check. Turner did have three offensive rebounds, however, and the Pacers as a team had 11. There were plenty of areas throughout the game where the Pacers did well, it came down to their inability to keep the Thunder from doing well in those areas too.
Thaddeus Young had five offensive boards and was the heart of the Pacers all night. Young had an 11 point, 10 rebound double double, together with seven steals and three blocks. Young was also just 5-13 shooting, and split a late trip to the line with a chance to tie the game.
In the end, it was just one game and through the course of the season, it’s not a fair assessment on what the Pacers have been so far this year. Perhaps the Pacers were aware of the extra lights shining on them and the weight of the game or maybe it was just a bad night.
Though, whether it’s one game or not, we’ll always have Bojan Bogdanovic picking PG’s pocket.
The Pacers will wrap up their home stand on Friday against the Detroit Pistons.