The most thrilling comeback win of the year for the Indiana Pacers was one that felt perpetually out of reach for the entire night, whether through big stretches from the Oklahoma City Thunder or a multitude of wasted opportunities. This was no more true than when the Pacers wasted four straight possessions down just five in the fourth quarter, watching helplessly as the Thunder settled into an 8-2 run to make it an 11-point lead with just over six minutes remaining.
The Pacers went scoreless for four and a half minutes when trailing by five, missing five straight shots and committing three turnovers. It was their second lengthy drought of the game, dating back to the first quarter when they scored just one point in five minutes, turning a three point advantage into an eight point deficit.
The Thunder were able to do a good job in hurrying the Indiana offense, but on defense, the Pacers didn’t fare much better. They stood by, almost helplessly, as OKC pushed the game into double figures early in the second, making it a 13-point lead after Paul George scored the first 10 of the quarter and then found Abdel Nader for a three.
That 13-point gap held at halftime in what would be an encouraging sign had the Pacers shown any real ability to settle down on offense while not getting confused so easily on defense. The Thunder continued their success to open the third, outscoring Indiana 10-4 behind more quick points from George, pushing Oklahoma City ahead 73-54.
Again, with the game slipping from their grasp, at times literally, Indiana kept the game from spiraling completely out of control, taking advantage of their numerous trips to the free throw line in the third. Oklahoma City’s inability to defend without fouling in the quarter set up the Pacers for 13 free throw attempts, giving them a chance to not only manufacture points, but to do so with the clock stopped.
Thaddeus Young got the ball rolling for Indiana after completing a crucial three point play down 19, hitting the first of what would be a tremendous 12-13 stretch at the line for the Pacers. Even still, they struggled to make much of a dent in the lead. Markieff Morris made it an 83-66 game with three minutes in the third to temper a potential sea change, but Indiana pushed beyond it, outscoring OKC 12-3 in the next two minutes, climbing to within eight.
George, meanwhile, did his best to keep it a double figure game, scoring the final three of the quarter for the Thunder, giving them an 88-78 lead with 1.9 seconds left in the third. Cory Joseph, already 0-4 from three point range at that point, had no reason to save his field goal percentage and heaved up a buzzer-beater from beyond half-court, banking it in to cut the lead to seven.
That make was big for the Pacers, who to that point had made just three three-pointers. While they were able to use free throws to make up some of that difference, it seemed as if the game would ultimately slip out of grasp if they were unable to make more shots from distance in a game the Thunder were shooting in double figure over 50% in that same amount of time.
Down 11 with 6:10 to go, Wesley Matthews finally made the three point shot a difference maker in favor of the Pacers, hitting a pair, combined with an extra pass to Bojan Bogdanovic to suddenly make it a three point game. Indiana kept chipping away and finally broke through into the lead on a Myles Turner dunk with 2:50 remaining.
Bogdanovic made it a three point lead on the following possession, capping a 19-5 run in which Indiana scored on eight straight possessions, shooting 6-7 from the floor and a big time 4-4 from the line, all courtesy of Domantas Sabonis. The lead didn’t prove to be safe, however. George drilled a three to tie it, then pushed OKC back into the lead on a pair of free throws.
Sabonis’s second half dominance was capped in response, a layup that tied the game at 106-106 with 57 seconds remaining. Back the other way, Wesley Matthews made his impact on the game with highlight reel defense on George. Matthews dove towards the ball after George fell, but George somehow got the ball out to Russell Westbrook to save the possession.
After George got the ball back, Matthews immediately knocked it loose, trapping George near halfcourt after he recovered it. George tried to drive right on Matthews from near the corner, holding strong and forcing George out of bounds with 38.3 seconds remaining.
NCROYABLE WESLEY MATTHEWS QUI FAIT REMPORTER LE MATCH AUX PACERS pic.twitter.com/GL612hMqqb— First Team (@FirstTeam101) March 15, 2019
Indiana went to Bogdanovic, who pulled up an elbow jumper after George went to the floor on an acting job. The shot was well contested by Steven Adams, forcing a long miss. The shot glanced off the back of the rim when Matthews stormed out of the corner to rebound the miss over Westbrook, putting it back for the 108-106 lead with under two seconds remaining.
The putback proved to be the game winner after Westbrook’s three point attempt came up short, giving the Pacers a thrilling come from behind victory over the Thunder. It was a game that they had just a 3.8% chance of winning after the Morris three, but one they absolutely earned through their play late.
Joseph’s three ultimately proved the difference on the scoreboard, but the final possession very nearly didn’t happen after Bogdanovic threw an errant pass that George intercepted. Darren Collison was in position to return the favor, stealing George’s pass. It not only saved the possession, but it also reset the shot clock, allowing the Pacers to run the clock down to within two seconds.
Turnovers were a big key in both Indiana and Oklahoma City’s success throughout the night. The teams combined for a gaudy 34 turnovers, a battle narrowly won by the Pacers 16-18. The Pacers also capitalized best off of those mistakes, outscoring the Thunder 17-13. Indiana also dominated in the paint, outscoring the Thunder by 20, but finished with five rebounds, a monumental task given the massive deficit the Pacers were playing with for most of the game.
Individually, it was a showcase for players against their former teams. George led all scorers with 36, but it was Sabonis that closed out the win for the Pacers. He finished with 26 points off the bench, outscoring the entire OKC second unit, including 16 in the second half. More than that, he shot 12-13 from the free throw line, including a pair after getting raked across the eye by Dennis Schroder.
The Pacers as a whole had a night from the line, going 27-32 overall. Collison was 5-5, leading him to finish with 17 points, seven assists, and four steals, but the same bounceback wasn’t rewarded to Bogdanovic, who was just 7-11 from the line. He did finish with 23, however, including being one of just two Pacers to hit multiple threes on the night.
Matthews led the way from deep, going 4-7 as part of his 16-point night. Indiana doesn’t win without him though. His two threes in the fourth shook some much needed dust off of the Indiana three point line, his defense on George late was spectacular, and of course, he wrapped it up with the game-winner.
Thaddeus Young finished with 11 points, but limited himself late when he stayed on the bench in favor of a Sabonis/Turner tandem up front. This was a great sign of trust not only from Young, but also Nate McMillan to go with that duo. Turner got to double figures on the go-ahead dunk, but spent most of the night languished in uncertainty offensively and struggles against Adams early. That changed late when Turner limited Adams’s impact on the game, a statement that didn’t seem possible after Adams scored 13 first half points.
The win provided the Pacers a boost as a team that has struggled to find themselves against winning opponents. It was Indiana’s first win against a winning opponent since February 7, snapping a four game skid. It also gave them a much-needed win before they head out West for a brutal four game road trip.
The Pacers are back in third in the East, however temporary, taking a half game lead over Philadelphia. The Sixers host Sacramento tomorrow night, while the Pacers head West, preparing for a game against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.