Following a familiar script (of late), the Indiana Pacers used a big third quarter to put them over the top against the Oklahoma City Thunder, extending their winning streak to four games. The Pacers outscored the Thunder 34-20 in the quarter, breaking out of an “ugly game” to put their stamp on the blowout victory.
The first half, while perhaps not ugly in the traditional Pacers sense, wasn’t without its warts. Oklahoma City closed both quarters strong, scoring 12 points in the final two minutes of the first and second quarters, keeping the door wide open. Meanwhile, the Pacers struggled on the offensive end to finish possessions inside, going just 12-30 in the paint in the first half.
Out of the break, however, the starters set the tone with a JaKarr Sampson steal turning into his first three in the last four games. T.J. Warren continued to feast in the midrange while Domantas Sabonis appeared to take umbrage with his many first half misses. The Pacers outscored the Thunder by nine in the first eight minutes of the quarter and unlike the first two quarters, there was no let up when the second unit entered the game.
T.J. McConnell scored or assisted on the final 11 points of the quarter for the Pacers, an 11-2 run that pushed the Pacers ahead by 26. Once in the fourth, Doug McDermott and Aaron Holiday helped ensure the Thunder would have no comeback, pushing the lead to 31 at the halfway point of the fourth.
While Oklahoma City would catch fire from deep to close the game to keep Indiana from expanding on the lead, the Pacers were able to get some run for both Naz Mitrou-Long and Brian Bowen II. Mitrou-Long was 0-1, but did find Bowen on a couple of passes, the latter of which resulted in Bowen’s first NBA bucket. Bowen also picked up a nice charge after he had made his first shot.
All in all, the second unit wasn’t as on point scoring tonight, but did provide some nice energy, especially in the third quarter. McConnell had six points and six rebounds, dishing out three assists on a night when Indiana had 21 as a team. McConnell continues to play comfortably within the offense, whipping the ball everywhere in the process. His passing has been a positive, especially in recording zero turnovers the last two games, but it was a little less accurate tonight, finishing with four turnovers on the game.
McDermott as well came back down from his hot three point shooting, going just 1-6 from deep. He did end up leading the bench with nine points. TJ Leaf in particular was a nice energy boost, picking up some extended minutes with Sampson picking up three quick fouls, scoring five points highlighted by a nice dunk, but also provided a nifty block + save in the first half.
The Pacers were led by the starters on the night, however. Four of the five starters reached double figures, all scoring 17 or more. Warren led the way with 23 points, doing so on 10-14 shooting. As mentioned earlier, he was an absolute nightmare for the Thunder in the midrange, shooting 6-7 (including a perfect 3-3 from the free throw line extended). Warren is now shooting 63.2% in the last five games.
Malcolm Brogdon finished with 20 points and six rebounds, leading the team with five assists. Brogdon had 18 points in the first half, helping to set the tone early and often in allowing the Pacers to overcome some of their uglier basketball in the first half. Sabonis meanwhile had another double double of 18 points and 16 rebounds, seven on the offensive end.
Of those seven, five came off of his own misses, however. The struggles the Pacers had around the basket granted a number of opportunities for extra shots, but the work around the rim from Sabonis in particular complete negated the effectiveness of Steven Adams, limiting him to just five rebounds, his lowest rebounding output against the Pacers since 2016.
That effort was best exemplified in the third, when Sabonis left a late shot clock hook short against Adams, only to somehow teleport to the rim for the rebound, step past Danilo Gallinari, and put back the easy layup.
With both Brogdon and Sabonis logging less than 30 minutes, some extra time was granted to Aaron Holiday, who continued his positive play, scoring 17 points in 31 minutes himself. Holiday was 6-10 from the floor with four assists, hitting a pair of threes, his fifth game in the last six with multiple deep balls made.
The win moves the Pacers to 7-4 on the season, allowing them to keep pace with a rather top heavy Eastern Conference early. The Pacers, in sixth place, are just a half game out of second and currently hold a two game lead over Brooklyn. That holds little bearing to how the remaining 70+ games will go for the rest of the East, but Indiana has done a tremendous job late putting them in good position despite the poor start to the year.
The Pacers will be tasked with a difficult back-to-back starting Friday, when they travel south to face the Houston Rockets (sans Eric Gordon) and then home to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday (sans Khris Middleton). In the meantime, Indiana will have their first extra day off in two and a half weeks, looking to trend in the right direction injury wise in relation to Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb.