|2013-2014 NBA Season|
|December 8th, 2013|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|6:00 PM CST|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Indiana|
|Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), ESPN The Fan 1070 AM|
|Injury Report: Danny Granger (Out)|
|Previous Matchups: None (Thunder Won Last Season's Series 2-0)|
|George Hill||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Lance Stephenson||SG||Thabo Sefolosha|
|Paul George||SF||Kevin Durant|
|David West||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Roy Hibbert||C||Kendrick Perkins|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|96.3 (T-20th)||Pace||99.3 (5th)|
|100.9 (17th)||ORtg||104.0 (9th)|
|90.2 (1st)||DRtg||98.4 (5th)|
The Indiana Pacers are a really, really scary team. Tonight's game will be their second of a back-to-back, but the first part of that trip involved absolutely squashing the Spurs at home. After an early deficit, they rallied behind some sublime play from David West, and then capped things off with a third quarter run from Paul George and George Hill. The Spurs threatened in the fourth quarter, but the Pacers starters were able to get ample rest.
After witnessing that game, a couple things that the Pacers managed to do really scared me.
1. Through three quarters, the Spurs only got to the line twice.
In other words, the Pacers interior D was on point, and they were using Greg Popovich's own philosophy against him. They never fouled anybody going into the paint, and did their absolute best to challenge every single shot. There was literally a point in the third quarter where Tony Parker charged at the rim three straight times, only to see each attempt bounce off the rim. The Pacers managed to play this great defense at the expense of a few mid-range jump shots, but the sheer failure of the Spurs at the rim more than negated those few opportunities.
2. The Pacers' Offense Was Ruthlessly Efficient
Generally, the Pacers aren't considered to be one of the league's greatest offensive teams. Their 45% from the field ties them for 15th place in the NBA, and their 35.9% mark from three is right in the same area. So generally, the Pacers win via having more possessions than the other team, or simply locking down on defense. Last night, the story was a lot different. The possession battle was fairly even, with the Spurs generally edging out the Pacers slightly throughout the game. And the Pacers defense through the 2nd and 3rd quarters was sublime, but their defense in the first and fourth wasn't nearly as good. Thus, the Pacers won this game with their offense. A somewhat slow but incredibly efficient offense.
We all know what Paul George is capable of doing, and he was his usual self tonight. Lots of long-range threes hitting the bottom of the net, power moves in the post, and some solid mid-range jumpers. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was watching a more mobile KD. But Paul George doesn't worry me, because he always gets his due and we have KD. Who really worries me is David West, who was able to routinely take advantage of Kawhi Leonard down in the post. Watching his turnaround shots go in was eerily like watching LaMarcus Aldridge take advantage of Serge Ibaka last Wednesday.
Of course, David West is a lot smaller than LaMarcus Aldridge, so you might think that Ibaka will fare better against West tonight. Unfortunately, last year's stats don't provide much hope. West scored at or above his average of 17 points in both games, as well as shooting at 50% or over. Hibbert was similarly efficient, and I don't see them slowing down
So how did the Thunder win twice? Well, the two games were entirely separate affairs, but if I had to pin each win on a single thing, I'd say that Kevin Martin won the early season matchup, while a tremendous effort on the boards won us the late-season matchup. Martin was effective because of his ability to hit transition threes, and the extremely poor quality of the Pacers bench last season. The late-season matchup saw the boards swing in our favor because the Thunder attacked the rim with reckless abandon, only shooting three three pointers during the entire first half.
Of course, neither of those advantages will be on the Thunder's side tonight. Kevin Martin's gone, and the Thunder really haven't found a three point threat of his caliber. Lamb might be getting there, but even if he is, the Pacers bench this year is infinitely superior to last year's counterparts. Also, as I noted above, the Pacers' interior defense is on fire, so I don't think an all-or-nothing approach in that regard will accomplish anything.
If that wasn't enough to get you worried about tonight's game, consider this: Paul George shot a combined 30% against the Thunder last season. You might think that this is good, but it's not. George is an unstoppable force right not, shooting below 40% in only four games this season. He's averaging 47% from the field and 39% from three, which are wholesale improvements over his 42% and 36% figures from last season, respectively. Plus, he's averaging another trip to the line. Simply put, this year's Paul George isn't last year's Paul George, and I really don't think KD has his number defensively. And even if he does, he's going to have to expend a lot of energy guarding George, only a couple of days after he was letting Al-Farouq Aminu hoist wide open twelve footers. (His action was justifiable as Aminu missed them all, but it's still an adjustment.)
To make matters worse, the Pacers are a team that likes to toy with their opponents. As noted by our friend Tim Donahue of 8 Points, 9 Seconds, the team generally performs really poorly in the first half, and then punches things into gear during the fourth quarter. There's not a great way to explain why they do it, but when you consider that the Thunder have often come back from behind in the fourth quarter, it's entirely possible that OKC could dig themselves in too big of a hole during the third.
I'm gonna be honest. From my end, things look really bleak. This Pacers team has only lost two games, one of them to a team that soundly beat the Thunder, and the other loss looks like a freak defeat at the hands of Derrick Rose. This Pacer team can have offensive struggles, for sure, but the Thunder have some serious matchup disadvantages, and I could see this game running away from OKC in the third.
Anyway, no matter how this game turns out, remember this: We'll always have Paris.
Prediction: Indiana Pacers 101, Oklahoma City Thunder 89.
How do you think tonight's game will go? Let us know in the comments!