Playing out of sorts all night, the Indiana Pacers very nearly took on a frustrating loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but they ramped things up in Winning Time, helping secure them the season series sweep over Oklahoma City. Getting there wasn’t easy in large part to that disjointed showing, mustering up just 20 assists and allowing 60 points in the paint.
The inability to close quarters in the first half put the Pacers in the rearview at the end of each. Four straight misses to end the first allowed the Thunder to jump ahead on an 8-0 run and five more misses to end the second putting them down 50-49 at the break. Danilo Gallinari opened things up for OKC in the third, extending their lead to seven on four made threes.
Down six with a minute remaining in the third, the Pacers reversed their fortunes, scoring seven straight to finally lead at the end of the third 79-78. Justin Holiday’s three cut the lead in half and a failed coach’s challenge on an out of bounds play by Oklahoma City set up Domantas Sabonis to bring the game to within a point, both buckets coming on T.J. McConnell assists, much needed on a night when assists were at a premium.
After a Dennis Schroder miss, Holiday raced down the floor, challenged Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the rim and put the Pacers ahead with 0.4 seconds left in the quarter.
In the fourth, it became the Doug McDermott Show. McDermott hit a three to push a one point lead to four, and proceeded to score nine straight for the Pacers, each point crucial as OKC continued to threaten on the scoreboard. Just when Indiana appeared to find some breathing room up six, Chris Paul stepped up for a pair of big time jumpers to bring the game back to within two.
The Pacers responded, getting a tip from Sabonis after staying active on the glass for a pair of offensive rebounds. Then Sabonis picked up a foul. And another. And then a third. Over the course of 38 seconds, the Pacers had committed four fouls, which allowed the Thunder to seize momentum, taking a 96-95 lead on a Steven Adams tip of his own.
Myles Turner had sat the entirety of the fourth as the Pacers played small with McDermott when he spelled Sabonis for foul trouble, but it was no thing as the big fella stepped into a go-ahead three that completely stalled Oklahoma City’s push.
Turner and Malcolm Brogdon tag-teamed on a steal on the ensuing possession, setting up a split at the line for Brogdon to make it a three point lead. After getting a key stop, the Pacers survived an Adams block on Brogdon and Indiana’s activity around the rim came up big again with T.J. Warren following his own miss with a big rebound, getting to the line to give the Pacers a five-point lead.
The Pacers held their advantage after another pair of free throws from Warren and a jumper from Jeremy Lamb, setting up an Oklahoma City inbounds with 13 seconds left. After having lost on a botched inbounds against Philadelphia, the Pacers responded as Holiday intercepted the pass, sealing the 107-100 win on a breakaway dunk.
With just eight fast break points and playing the Thunder to a 15-15 draw in points off turnovers despite winning the turnover battle by four, the Pacers had to find other ways to come up with the win. Topping the Thunder in free throws 14-10 helped, as did a 12-8 advantage in second chance points.
The second unit provided key minutes not only from McDermott (14 points) and Holiday (12) in scoring, but also with McConnell in dishing eight assists. Five of those went to Holiday and McDermott, the other three going to Sabonis and Turner. Sabonis fought his way to a 17 point, 13 rebound double double, but really struggled throughout the night, which came to a head late when he picked up three fouls in under 30 seconds.
He wasn’t the only starter to look out of sorts. While all five reached double figures, it was hardly a big night from anyone short of Warren. Brogdon had just 11 on 4-13 shooting, two of those makes coming from three point range. Lamb had his lowest scoring output since the season opener with 13, but like with Turner, who had 12, it was his last shot that proved the biggest in getting the Pacers the win.
Nights like this were fairly commonplace last year after Victor Oladipo went out, but they were more common in losses. Too often, the Pacers got these kinds of mid-teen scoring outputs, but couldn’t boast someone putting them over the top with a bigger scoring night. This year appears to be different, with Warren providing that punch tonight, scoring a game high 24.
Warren had six in the fourth, 15 in the second half to lead the way. He did so on 9-15 shooting, but also stepped up with winning plays late beyond scoring, pulling in the crucial offensive rebound with just over 90 seconds left that sent him to the line to make it a two possession game.
With the win, the Pacers now sit at 14-7, improving to 5-5 on the road. They’re now 2-1 on their current road trip, and will have a chance to clinch a winning trip when they face the Detroit Pistons on Friday, wrapping up their season series. The Pistons got the better of the Pacers in the first two meetings, but have gone opposite directions since then, the Pacers improving to 14-4 while the Pistons have gone just 6-11.
Even still, the Pistons have provided a challenge for the Pacers with Andre Drummond and with Blake Griffin on the court, Indiana will need to come away with the win to even up the season series.