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Everything you need to know about Pacers-Thunder

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A deep dive into the actual basketball stuff that will come along with Paul George’s second game back at BLF.

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With Paul George set to make his second return to Indianapolis with the Thunder, we teamed up with the folks at Welcome To Loud City to preview Thursday’s game.

Topics touched on:

  • How are the Pacers staying competitive without Victor Oladipo?
  • The Paul George-Victor Oladipo/Domantas Sabonis trade 18 months later
  • All things Sabonis: Transition from makeshift stretch four into Sixth Man of the Year candidate, long-term fit with Myles Turner, and more
  • Wesley Matthews bringing a different dynamic to the starting lineup
  • What 2013-14 Paul George and 2018-19 Paul George do and don’t have in common, plus a sprinkling of 2013-14 Kevin Durant chatter
  • Getting defensive: Steven Adams blitzing versus Myles Turner dropping
  • Weighing the value Thaddeus Young adds tagging and releasing against assigning him to Paul George
  • Splish, splash: On the importance of Jerami Grant’s 3-point shooting sticking around for the postseason
  • Preferred playoff pairings

You can get the podcast on iTunes and Spotify by clicking the links, or listen below:

In addition to that conversation, here’s five basketball-related things to know about the match-up that also have nothing to do with prognosticating about booing (you’re welcome!).

Myles Turner needs to drop deeper

Steven Adams averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds against the Pacers last season, in part due to the aggressive nature of Myles Turner’s drops:

Coming out this high to force the ball out of Russell Westbrook’s hands left the defense vulnerable to the burly New Zealander’s patented flip shot off the roll or slip.

Westbrook is shooting 40 percent on pull-up twos and 25 percent on dribbling threes post All-Star break. Both marks are slight improvements over his woeful season averages but not so much where it wouldn’t be worth it to take a chance on him going off from mid-range extended in order to have Myles Turner hang back in position to protect the rim and defend two against one.

Hunt the corners, carefully

Add a few doses of length and chutzpah and the approach that the Pacers need to consider dialing back against the Westbrook-Adams tandem is strikingly similar to the nightly strategy employed by the Oklahoma City Thunder: Bring the screener’s man to the ball and pinch in toward the middle with swarming defenders.

Granted, the skip pass is generally there for the taking when defenses load up one-pass away, but successfully whipping the ball in-between the sprawling arms of any two of Paul George, Jerami Grant, Terrance Ferguson, and Dennis Schroder is about as harrowing as managing to dive unfettered into Kraken-infested waters.

Although Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic lead the league in corner 3-point percentage, the Thunder rank first in steals, first in deflections, and second in defensive loose balls recovered.

As such, the ratio of risk to reward essentially boils down to timing. The key is to make the overhead pass with the stunter’s man drifting to the corner once the screener has spread to three or darted to the rim, like so:

Once that window is gone, if the ball-handler isn’t adept at working the corners with off the dribble head fakes and hesitations (a skill which is in short-supply among Indiana’s guards), the team better come prepared with the stamina to get worn down and still make shots playing late into the shot-clock.

Per NBA.com, no team has forced a higher percentage of opponent field goal attempts with 7 or fewer seconds left on the shot-clock than the Thunder, which notably is an area where the Pacers have already struggled since the start of March.

Watch out for corner single-double

Beware of when Paul George sets up in the corner with a stagger to his left and Steven Adams on the opposite block. Unpredictability makes this floppy variation one of OKC’s niftiest actions.

If George’s man leans into him to force him to use the screens, and if the big stays high to protect against the curl, the six-time All-Star attacks off the dribble. If his defender anticipates the stagger, George flips his expectations against him and scurries across the lane. If his man tries to shoot the gap on the opposite side, George uses a cross screen from Adams to spot-up from the corner. If the defender locks and trails, he curls, pivots, fades to three, and then makes a play for the Kiwi to roll to the basket.

It’s a nightmare of permutations!

Oh, and when the defense keys in even a little bit too much on George, Westbrook is there to take advantage of the opportunity to glide to the rim.

George is only shooting 34 percent from the field and 25 percent from three over his last seven games, but chasing him through mazes of picks is exhausting regardless of outcome. With Bojan Bogdanovic already tasked with attempting to generate offense against the Defensive Player of the Year candidate on the other end of the floor, look for Thaddeus Young to draw the assignment against his old teammate.

Exploit the fatigue factor

This will be the Thunder’s third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set after facing the Nets tonight in a nationally televised game.

In order to avoid getting bogged down in the half-court while taking advantage of potentially tired legs, the Pacers need to push the pace as much as possible before taking off for their four-game west coast road trip this weekend.

As usual, their best offense will be their defense.