The three-game losing streak is over for the Indiana Pacers, escaping the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road in an overtime thriller that absolutely lived up to the billing of being between two of the NBA’s worst teams. It was an impressive showcase of futility on both ends, but Domantas Sabonis and Justin Holiday had just enough to put the Pacers over the hump.
Indiana got off to a relatively quick start, using the Sabonis/Holiday combination to take a 15-10 lead. Sabonis found Holiday twice on a pair of beautiful passes, but both would head to the bench, immediately allowing the Thunder to take the lead on an 8-0 run, fueled by numerous Indiana turnovers into fast break opportunities.
A solid quarter from Lance Stephenson helped steady the ship enough to help Indiana take a 29-27 lead, but still managed to trail the end of the quarter on a Mike Muscala three for Oklahoma City. Indiana committed seven turnovers in the quarter, leading to eight OKC points as they outscored the Pacers 10-0 in fast break points.
To start the second quarter, Indiana found a new connection of note as Jeremy Lamb fed Terry Taylor at the basket for a pair of layups, tying the game at 34-34. Indiana would extend their lead out to five with Holiday and Sabonis again taking charge, but it would prove to be short lived when the Thunder responded with seven straight.
Perplexing rotations that split up Stephenson and Sabonis and forced Oshae Brissett into the five in a wildly lackluster zone defense allowed the Thunder to build a five-point lead of their own. The Pacers would trim the lead to one, but again gave up the final basket of the quarter, heading into the locker room down three and having lost both quarters.
The third quarter was its own unmitigated disaster. The Pacers missed their first eight shots, falling behind by 15 in the process before a big time block from Torrey Craig led to a transition three from Chris Duarte. After forcing a turnover from Luguentz Dort, the Pacers were back in business!
That optimism lasted for the entire length of time it took to read that particular passage, as a Sabonis miss, a Josh Giddey three, a successful challenge by OKC to overturn a Caris LeVert goaltending bucket, a “how did that not go?” missed dunk by Sabonis, and a pair of fouls later, Oklahoma City had extended their lead out to a game high 16 and the Pacers still had just three points to show for six and a half minutes of work.
Needing some kind of boost, Taylor again stepped up with a pair of timely layups off of offensive rebounds and the Pacers worked their way to free throw line, cutting the lead to within five, before again surrendering a three pointer late in the quarter to head into the fourth down eight.
The Pacers shot just 6-23 from the floor in the third, but opened up the fourth with a bit more fanfare. Brissett hit a three and Stephenson finally connected with Sabonis to make it a five-point game, scoring five more to take their first lead of the second half on a monstrous possession from the big fella.
With the game going back and forth from that point, the Pacers again found themselves down four, going back on top with a 7-0 run finished off by a much-needed triple from LeVert, who had to that point missed 10 straight shots to go 1-12. That three didn’t lift him from his funk, missing his next three point attempt and then blanking on a pair of free throws to eventually allow OKC the chance to retake the lead.
Once again, the Pacers were forced to come back from four down, holding the Thunder defensively while chipping away, Sabonis eventually tying it up at 100-100 with 56 seconds left. After a stop, the Pacers were unable to do anything with two different looks at the basket, LeVert trying to force way too much, eventually resulting in a pair of bad looks that would send this behemoth of a bad game to overtime.
Indiana would strike first, but back-to-back threes from Dort would prove a much bigger impact as the Thunder jumped ahead by six on an 8-0 run. Out of a timeout, Jeremy Lamb scored five straight to cut it to one and Sabonis would keep the game there after a pair of Darius Bazley free throws.
In the final minute, Holiday would steal the ball from Dort and break away for a go-ahead layup, putting Indiana on top 111-110.
After getting a stop with 22 seconds left, the Thunder kept the Pacers frantic in the backcourt, eventually leading to a turnover from Lamb that provided two point-blank layup attempts from Tre Mann and Muscala. When both players somehow came up empty, Holiday would secure the board and hit both free throws to extend the lead to three at 113-110.
Before continuing, it’s worth noting that the leading team fouling up three is morally wrong. Like a caution flag finish in racing, it actively removes excitement from the game for no particular reason and should, along with the transition take foul, be removed from the professional game.
That said, what Craig did in committing such a foul against Muscala with three seconds left was nothing short of heroic. Not because it all but secured an Indiana victory, but because the potential of five more minutes of this game would’ve been far to much of a burden for us, the viewer, to bear.
Not allowing OKC to extend the game into a second overtime was also a smart move by Craig because it was a game the Pacers simply had to get out of. Not only are they in the first night of a back-to-back, but they also lost both Duarte (ankle) and Goga Bitadze (right foot) to injury tonight. Even Holiday was nursing his hand after being fouled at the end of overtime.
Sabonis would finish the night with a 24 point, 18 rebound, and 10 assist triple double. Though the later two stats were coming along throughout the night, it wasn’t until the end of the third quarter that his scoring began to pick up. He had 15 in the final 14 minutes of regulation and overtime, crucial scoring from a Pacers team that had nothing of note to that point.
He was joined by Holiday with 22 points on 8-12 shooting with four threes. Holiday also came alive in the fourth and OT, scoring 12 in the final frame. From the outset, Holiday and Sabonis were Indiana’s two best players tonight, so it was fitting they not only led the way on the scoreboard, but ultimately led Indiana to the late win.
LeVert would wind up with 10 points in the end, but would go just 3-18 to get there. He was just 3-6 from the free throw line on a night the Pacers missed 11 as a team, including three misses each from Sabonis and Lamb. Lamb otherwise had another solid outing, scoring 14 points with four assists, joining Stephenson as the bench high assist man. He also joined in double figures by Oshae Brissett with 10.
Lamb’s two dishes to Taylor in the first half were welcome sights in getting some easy, easy buckets. Taylor would be blocked and missed a follow up jumper to break up his 100% shooting percentage, but would finish the night with eight pointson 4-6 shooting, pulling in three offensive boards to help Indiana to a slight 13-11 second chance advantage.
The Pacers hit the road to face the Dallas Mavericks tomorrow night. Indiana got the better of Dallas in their first meeting in December, then giving them a three game winning streak and a downright rosy 12-16 record. Since then, both teams have been on completely separate tracks. Indiana is just 6-17 and Dallas has rounded themselves into the league’s best defense. They’ll also be playing their first game since Luka Doncic was not selected as a Western Conference All-Star Starter while Indiana will continue to have injury question marks, so it should be fun?