Crunch Time Blues
In what was the greatest offensive performance of Russell Westbrook's career, the Thunder simply could not overcome the Indiana Pacers, losing 104-116. The ball was certainly in Russ's hands during the crunch time, and he was actually quite successful. Over the final 4:09 that Westbrook was in the game, he took a shot on seven of the Thunder's eight offensive possessions. The other possession was a Westbrook pass into a Nick Collison foul. Westbrook scored at least a point on five of those seven possessions.
On the other end, the Pacers managed the game very well. They found ways to score by exploiting Kanter's weaknesses in the pick and roll, as well as using great off-ball movement. OKC's last chance to stop Indiana probably came with about a minute to play. Westbrook gets to the line in transition, with the Thunder down 6. But Westbrook misses his first free throw, and the Pacers stay up by 5. Then Indiana ran a pick and roll that found C.J. Miles in the far corner, and Waiters was caught defending in the post. Indiana went up by 8, Westbrook airballed a long three, Indiana was back to the line, and it was basically over.
Westbrook's Historic Night
Russell Westbrook's 54 points wasn't only a career high for Russ. It was tied for the most points ever scored by a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. (In case you're from Mars, the other person to score 54 for OKC is Kevin Durant.) Westbrook scored 21 of his points in the first, and 20 of them in the fourth. Russ' performance between the quarters wasn't as good. Westbrook hit only 2 of 6 shots taken in the second, while hitting only two of nine shots taken in the third. Russ was clearly bothered by a bit of defense from C.J. Miles in the second, and couldn't get much from outside. The third quarter saw Westbrook blocked by Hibbert twice in the paint, while George Hill did all he could to take away Russ' outside shot.
Still, Westbrook's performance in the first and fourth was something to behold. Russ had 5 straight field goals at one point in the first, working around screens flawlessly. Russ was also deadly in transition, using his trademark quickness to get to the rim. Westbrook's 20 fourth quarter points actually didn't start until there was 8:56 to go in the quarter. There was almost a full 12 minutes in this game between the third and fourth quarters where Russ didn't score. In any case, Westbrook's fourth quarter points were more of the same, as he worked off of screens and through the pick and roll. Perhaps his most unbelievable shot of the game came with 1:19 to go, as Westbrook canned an unbelievably deep 29-foot three pointer.
The Thunder shot 39.3% from the foul line. 11 of 28. Worst performance at the line in franchise history.
Nick Collison Steven Adams was 0-6, while Dion Waiters was 0-4. All other players shot 50% or higher.
Three point devastation, no ball movement
The Thunder shot only 3 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half. The second half was a completely different story, as the Thunder shot 8-16. Some of it was luck. OKC took a lot of bad threes around high screens regardless, with little ball movement to distract Indiana's D. It was just that Westbrook was able to hit a few miracle threes in the second half. Meanwhile, Morrow was a bit more active in the corners while Augustin was a willing passer out of the pick and roll. Kanter even nailed a second half three, only his third all season.
Indiana was more than up to the challenge on the other end, though. In the first half, Indiana went 50% on 6 attempts, equaling OKC's production while only taking half of the shots. The Pacers then took 14 attempts from three in the second half, making 7 of them. C.J. Miles was responsible for four of these threes, all of which came as he ran around a screen off the ball on the weak side. OKC simply could not cover the perimeter when Indiana moved the ball from side to side, and it was a huge factor in them losing this game.
Waiters and Kanter fade in fourth
Aside from Westbrook, the two primary scorers in OKC's offense were Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter. Here's their quarter by quarter combined offensive numbers....
- 1st Quarter: 3-8, 6 points
- 2nd Quarter: 3-6, 7 points
- 3rd Quarter: 5-8, 11 points
- 4th Quarter: 1-5, 2 points
These numbers are a bit misleading, as three of the five fourth quarter attempts came after the game had already been decided. So, in effect, Kanter and Waiters simply weren't a major part of the Thunder's fourth quarter offense. Westbrook was scoring to great effect, but the lack of variety deep in the game definitely contributed to a few critical empty possessions.
Questionable lineup management from Brooks
The Pacers out-rebounded the Thunder 27 to 17 in the first half. But the Thunder actually won the second half rebounding battle, 26 to 25. This is likely because the Thunder elected to play 9 minutes without a center in the first half, while only playing 2:42 without a center in the second half.
Curiously, Scott Brooks did not play Steven Adams and Enes Kanter alongside each other in crunch time. Instead, Brooks benched Adams and went to a two PG lineup with D.J. Augustin. The last 2:15 saw Brooks go back to Nick Collison in lieu of Augustin. Collison grabbed a board and went 1-2 from the line in that span.
It's understandable why Brooks would want to go smaller. The Pacers were destroying the Thunder with pick and pops, as well as floaters from the lane. Adams simply cannot guard the power forward position, though he was excellent defending at the rim. Still, considering that Kanter only had one meaningful field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, it's perfectly valid to wonder why Adams wasn't out there in his place.
- Click here for the latest on Westbrook's 16th technical.
- Roy Hibbert shot 4-4 in the first, getting really easy positioning on Kanter down low. But Hibbert went only 3-8 after that period, a testament to the pickup in Kanter's D. Kanter even committed an off-ball shove foul right after Hibbert's points in the first to show Roy that he meant business.
- Dion Waiters pickpicketed George Hill for an easy transition score.
- George Hill banked in a difficult straight on three around a Hibbert screen in the first. Later, in the third, Paul george would bank in a miracle straight on three that was well contested by Nick Collison. Waugh....
- Enes Kanter was 2 of 7 outside the paint. Nick Collison bricked all three of his pick and pops. Steven Adams didn't venture outside the paint. Oh Serge Ibaka, how we miss thee....
- The Pacers got 8 points off of floaters in the paint during the first half, what?
- Scott Brooks considered a timeout with 9:12 to go in the third, as a C.J. Miles corner two put the Pacers up 6. But he saw that Waiters had a mismatch on George Hill, and let Dion go to work. Dion scored mid-range, and Brooks would not call a timeout until the Thunder were down 7 with 7:28 to go.
- The Thunder had 6 bonus free throws tonight, just to rub it in. 4 in the third, 2 in the fourth.
- With 2:31 to go in the third, OKC was within 1. The Thunder even had a chance to take the lead, but Nick Collison was called for a moving screen because Westbrook brought his man into Collison too early. George Hill made a three on the other end, and it was all downhill from there.
- Despite all of Collison's struggles, he still had 4 assists and managed to hold down the fort at center against a huge Pacer bench.
- Paul George was a real enigma. Some nice stuff of of screens, but no crazy isolation stuff yet. Great to see him out there though.
- Anthony Morrow only took 4 shots in 29 minutes. Considering that Morrow's lack of wingspan is routinely exploited on defense and his high shooting percentages, that's a problem.
- Steven Adams dove on the floor to set up a jump ball on a tough offensive rebound. Adams won the subsequent jump ball, and subsequently set the screen that triggered Westbrook's fourth quarter run. Adams also had two offensive boards in his short 3:30 fourth quarter stint.
- Westbrook broke into his career high during a one-on-one fast break against George Hill. Awesome stuff.
- The Pacer crowd was awesome tonight. Audible chants during the third quarter, and definitely the same in crunch time. Couldn't tell what they were saying over TV, but always cool to see a crowd that cares.
- New Orleans needs to lose to either Minnesota or San Antonio in order for the Thunder to make the playoffs. Fingers crossed!
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, Platinum Edition
Thunder Down Under: Dion Waiters, who has come a long way and actually hit a couple of stepbacks
Thunder Plunderer: C.J. Miles, continuing the long standing tradition of destroying the Thunder entirely on weak side threes
Thunder Blunder: D.J. Augustin, 0-5 from the field and only a single assist. Augustin did save a possession in the fourth by fouling David West before he got deep and had no turnovers, though.
Next Game: Versus the Portland Trail Blazers, Monday, April 13th, 7 PM Central Daylight Time.
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