What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Despair. What's so painful about this game is that the Thunder were extremely close to recovering from 30 minutes of atrocious play with 18 minutes of good play. They're a darn good team, but they just completely lost their head in the first half. Completely.
The Thunder's play started off below-average, and just spiraled into the abyss. It started off with Russell Westbrook not scoring well, but still knowing how to distribute the ball. Serge Ibaka was having trouble shooting. KD was still scoring, and Nick Collison had some solid work going on down low. But then, all of the positives started to disappear. Westbrook forgot how to pass. Harden couldn't get any ball movement going, and was lazy on defense. The Pacers locked down the paint with extremely good help defense. Perkins might as well have been a jello statue defending Roy Hibbert. The Pacers got all of the fouls they wanted down low. And the Thunder kept pressuring the Pacers, giving them wide, wide open threes.
But midway through the third, a huge change happened. The Thunder bottomed out at 24 points behind the Pacers, and Scott Brooks called a timeout. It was now or never. Fisher and Harden entered the game, making a small lineup of Perkins-Durant-Harden-Fisher-Westbrook. The lineup worked well, especially with the Pacers hitting the foul bonus halfway through the quarter. The Thunder could keep the ball moving and get to the line with ease. After an initial 9-0 run, the Thunder slowly chipped away at the Pacers' lead, getting it down to 10 with 7:56 to go in the fourth.
Unfortunately, the Pacers aren't pushovers. They saw what the Thunder were doing, and matched them well. Danny Granger played extremely well, exploiting the size advantage he had in his matchup. The Pacers also were able to find guys open on the perimeter, though they didn't always capitalize.
What was tonight's turning point?
Fortunately, the Thunder kept going at it, and finally broke the ten point barrier. It would have been significant, if there wasn't 1:40 to go when it happened. The Thunder grabbed a rebound after three missed Pacer shots, and Kevin Durant dunked and got fouled, cutting the Pacers lead to 5 with 1:07 to go. Fisher fouled a completely open Hibbert on the next possession, and Hibbert botched one of the free throws, giving the Thunder a 6 point deficit with the ball. They cut it to four with a Perkins layup, but the Pacers killed almost all hopes of a Thunder comeback with a Darren Collison jumper. The Thunder had a ghost of a chance when Westbrook cut the deficit to three with a desperation three, but they would have had to steal the ball and make a three in order to stay in it. Unfortunately, Derek Fisher was too short to steal the ball from Danny Granger, effectively ending the game.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
Because they fell into a huge hole. There were many reasons for that happening, but as we've seen in the losses to the Grizzlies and Heat, when two of our big three don't play well, the Thunder don't play well. Durant was awesome. Collison was great at all ends. But Sefolosha, Perkins, Ibaka, and Mohammed can't generate offense unless they're helped along by their ballhandlers. Maynor isn't there to do that, and Fisher can do it only on a couple of plays a game. So when both Harden and Westbrook aren't doing anything well, the team just collapses.
You've got to question the rotations of Scott Brooks tonight as well. Why in the hell did Daequan Cook only get 5 minutes, while Derek Fisher got 26? Fisher has scored two points in the last four games, and he's shooting below 25% on the year. I know that he can move the ball well off the ball, and that his defense is smart. But he still gets out-quicked on defense, and, again, he's not even a threat on offense. Play him at backup PG if you must, but having him out there for so long tonight was just idiotic.
Plus, Scott Brooks didn't go small until the situation absolutely called for it. Why? Was a 10 point deficit not enough for him? It was clear the Thunder couldn't get inside against the Pacers bigs, and the Thunder bigs just couldn't guard Hibbert, West, and Amundson.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
The Pacers took 34 trips to the line tonight, including 20 during the first half. That amount is absurdly high, and hard to quantify. But in simple terms, the Thunder couldn't keep up with the Pacers on defense. The Pacers are pretty bad about committing turnovers, so the Thunder kept pressuring and looking for steals. As a result, the Pacers were able to get open looks and drive the lane. In the lane, the Thunder chose to commit fouls rather than giving them free layups. You also had guys like Sefolosha and Fisher, who were pretty bad about keeping up with their assignments.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
This loss drops the Thunder to 40-15, and loses them the Western Conference lead to the Spurs, who beat the Hornets tonight and have won 10 straight. The Thunder have their first three game losing streak this season, but hopefully they can reverse the trend against Toronto on Sunday.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, for absolutely beasting.
Thunder Down Under: Nick Collison, for getting dirty down low all game.
Thunder Blunder: Hardestbrook, for an atrocious offensive performance.
Thunder Plunderer: Danny Granger, for an array of clutch shots.
Next Game: Versus the Toronto Raptors, Sunday, April 8th, 6 PM Central Daylight Time