Any good recap of this game has to begin with the amazing block Russell Westbrook had on Roy Hibbert last night. If you missed the game, sit back, relax, and be enlightened:
Yeah, this wasn't some terrible Nate Robinson on Yao Ming "block", where he taps the ball away as the center is going up. No, this was a man-sized block, with Westbrook elevating to an unprecedented level and slapping that ball away as Hibbert neared the rim. The best part about it is how Hibbert turned the wrong way to the basket, so he didn't even see Westbrook coming. From my angle in the arena, I thought that Westbrook was about to foul Hibbert. But he slipped quietly and silently into the right place, slapping the rock at the best possible moment.
When the play happened, an otherwise content crowd finally rose out of their chairs and started screaming. Nobody sat down until the end of the game, and you could tell that the Pacers had no chance of victory from that point forward.
But before the play, and, well, before the fourth quarter, this was really Kevin Martin's game. After sitting relatively quietly the past week or so, he really turned on the jets and did a great job of keeping the Thunder's lead while Durant and Westbrook were struggling. Truth be told, this game was set up for him to succeed, because while the Pacers have excellent half-court defense, their transition defense is extremely poor. Martin is excellent at running up to the line and jacking up that odd-looking shot, and the Pacers couldn't really get set in time. He also did a good job of working on the weak side for points, and drawing fouls when need be.
When the game rolled around to the fourth, it became Russ and KD's game. After beginning the game 3-11 and 5-17 respectively, they finished the game a combined 7-11 from the floor, and scored 16 of the Thunder's 20 fourth quarter points. In short, these guys know when it's time to ball. The Pacers played excellent man-to-man defense on these guys, and were really intent on keeping Westbrook and Durant from getting to the rim. But when the fourth rolled around, they were just locked in. Durant hit four extremely tough looking jumpers right in his opponents face, and Westbrook found his way to the top of the key a few times off of a pick and nailed some jumpers.
But I really have to give the Pacers credit. Even though they're a team that struggles offensively, they found ways to hurt the Thunder where it matters most. The paint. In the first quarter, David West was destroying Serge Ibaka during his trips to the paint, and during the Third, West was really taking advantage of the Thunder's focus on protecting the paint by raising for a few jumpers. And I know it seems like I mention this in every recap, but the Pacers really got a lot of open threes tonight. They didn't capitalize on them, but they were there.
What killed it for the Pacers was, quite simply, their bench. If they had a decent bench to go along with their starters, the Pacers might have won this game by a good margin. The bench basically let Kevin Martin shoot unhindered, and they let guys like Collison and Maynor get easy baskets. It wasn't so much that they were bad offensively, because they were able to get some decent shots and collectively shot 50% from the floor. But they were terrible defensively, and allowed the Thunder to dictate the pace of the game, which really came out against their favor.
I also credit the Thunder win to their excellent ability to keep the offense afloat with free throws. It gets boring to watch, especially when the Thunder cranked out 19 in the first half. But in the absence of good rebounding or ball control, getting to the line really helps stop the bleeding when it matters most.
Hopefully, when we see the Pacers again in April, Granger will be fully rested and ready to give us a great basketball game.
Lineup of Death Watch:
I'm going to have to think about abolishing this feature, because the Thunder's bench destroyed the Pacers tonight.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Martin, for destroying the Pacer bench.
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, for igniting the crowd.
Thunder Blunder: Kevin Durant, for not showing up until the fourth.
Thunder Plunderer: David West, who make me miss the soundbite from "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly".
Next Game: Versus the New Orleans Hornets, Wednesday, December 12th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.