Waiters, Augustin close game with late run
With two minutes and 14 seconds to go in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook had already achieved his third triple double of the year. Serge Ibaka was in the midst of a sublime night as well, having shot 9-11 from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds. The Thunder were up by only seven though, and a recent burst from C.J. Miles had spurred Indiana back into the game. It looked like this game was destined to go down to the wire, with Indiana's conservative style contrasting directly with Oklahoma City's gambles on defense and whirlwind pace.
However, the Thunder managed to go on a 17-4 run over the next four minutes, effectively closing out Indiana. The unlikely hero was Dion Waiters, whom accounted for 9 points of the run. Waiters had started the game 0-7, and blatantly missed two open catch and shoot threes. But Dion never shies away from shooting. Waiters was able to hit one stepback three via his own rebound, as well as a pair of catch and shoot threes. The other catalyst for the Thunder's big run was D.J. Augustin. Augustin assisted on 9 total points during the run, as well as hitting a three of his own. Going into the run, Augustin was 0-3 from the floor.
As I strongly hinted at above, it's really remarkable how the Thunder bench was able to come out of nowhere and close the game. Obviously the outside shooting was a bit lucky, but the confidence it takes to recover from a bad night is absolutely invaluable.
Westbrook, Ibaka lead OKC to early lead
Even though the game was close at the end of the third, the Thunder had established control from the outset. OKC trapped early and often, and that led to a lot of fast break opportunities. With 2:29 to go in the first quarter, the Thunder were up 25 to 15. 13 of the Thunder's points had come in transition, and only two of the points did not involve Westbrook or Ibaka. This early run provided OKC's cushion from the outset, and the Thunder would ride that cushion until the late third quarter run.
On the other side of the floor, the Pacers took 10 shots outside of the paint, compared to only 8 twos inside the paint. That's a bad balance in today's NBA, especially when your team shoots 3 of 8. Simply put, the Pacers didn't really have a player capable of moving the Thunder's defense, so they had to resort to shots where they could find space. Indiana would eventually get their offense going though, relying mainly on offensive rebounds and excellent ball movement from side to side.
Pacers try to contain Westbrook defensively
On a night where Serge Ibaka 9 of 11 while Westbrook goes 8 of 19, you can generally tell how the other team was playing defense. No switching, and no attempt whatsoever to contain the roll man. In other words, the Pacers focused on containing Westbrook, and always made sure to have someone waiting for him at the rim. This let OKC run a ton of easy pick and pop plays to Ibaka. Kanter was a huge factor on the pick and roll as well, scoring 15 points on 6 of 10 shooting.
The Pacers' strategy only really worked during the second and third quarters. During the second quarter, the Thunder simply went cold from the field, shooting 3-12 outside the paint. The third quarter saw OKC become a bit too predictable, as they committed 4 turnovers in the first 6 minutes of play. Had Waiters and Augustin not lit up the floor, it might have been difficult for OKC to establish an offensive groove in the fourth quarter.
Substory: McGary vs. Mahinmi
Both of these players got rather chippy with each other during the course of this game. Mich McGary was the more active of the two, and forced Ian Mahinmi into at least two turnovers. Mahinmi was able to score on McGary a couple of times, but Mitch would finish with the far better line. It's really cool to see McGary play the passing lanes and body his defenders, instead of trying to be a force at the rim like Ibaka. McGary's role on defense kind of reminds me of Draymond Green. Both of them just have so much energy that they can be everywhere on defense all of the time.
Offensively, McGary is really coming into his own. I saw Mitch hit a jumper for the first time tonight, and it was a rather difficult free throw line stop and pop. If Mitch can hit that jumper regularly, he'll become a serious offensive threat. I've already seen McGary face up his defender a few times, and it's clear that he's quick enough to get the step on most power forwards. But most power forwards don't respect McGary's shot yet, so he'll sometimes shoot poorly from the field. Tonight, Mahinmi read McGary pretty well, and McGary only finished 2 of 7.
- The only time George Hill was really able to flourish tonight was when he went up against the Westbrook-Augustin lineup. It should be know that having both PGs out there makes the Thunder vulnerable to perimeter scorers.
- Nick Collison had a driving dunk today, and it was against a team that actually plays respectable D! Amazing touch pass by Augustin to set that one up.
- Over the past four games, Oklahoma City has outrebounded their opponents 238-170.
- C.J. Miles had 16 points in the third quarter. Some of it was bad defense by Dion Waiters, who likes to go for steals. But a lot of it just had to do with a hot hand from Miles and great ball movement from Indiana.
- The Pacers really tried to establish Stuckey as their main scorer, but he was closed down off of screens well.
- Anthony Morrow went 5 of 9 from 12 points in this win. Had at least one really nice shot coming around a screen. Is his defense really that much worse than Singler's? Probably, but still!
- KD and Adams were out tonight, in case anyone forgot.
- I almost never notice Andre Roberson on offense now, and he was key to containing George Hill early. Maybe a defense only player can work within this team after all....
- Waiters numbers were down tonight, but his shot selection has improved by leaps and bounds over the past couple of games. Watching Dion hit the side of the backboard on an open three is disheartening, but at least he's in the right place. Also, the stepback jumper really seems to work for Waiters.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, because triple double
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, because almost perfect from the field
Thunder Blunder: Kyle Singler, who went 0-4 from the field
Thunder Plunderer: C.J. Miles, whom Presti tried to sign back in 2008
Next Game: At the Phoenix Suns, Thursday, February 26th, 9:30 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!