The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Indiana Pacers at home 115-111 in overtime. The Thunder continued their recent trend of slow starts, falling behind the Pacers, who were without All-Star Paul George, and trailed for most of the game. The Thunder showed resiliency and patience throughout most of the affair, but ultimately they did not play well, and Russell Westbrook’s box score is a microcosm of what happened. Westbrook recorded another triple-double, but needed 34 shots to produce 31 points, and committed 7 of the team’s 20 turnovers on the night.
Meanwhile, the game was really a battle of the PG spot, because Westbrook’s counterpart, Indy newcomer Jeff Teague, parried Westbrook’s attack perfectly with an efficient 30 points off of 9-16 shooting, including 9-9 from the free throw line.
The loss drops the Thunder to 8-6 after impressive wins over the Rockets and Nets, while continuing the growth process that is going to be two steps forward, one step back for most of this season. The loss is yet another reminder that this team has joined the middle class of the NBA; inconsistent play and poor attention to details will get them beat by sub-.500 teams, even ones lacking their best player.
- One of the biggest positives to take away from this game is the Thunder showed remarkable patience down the stretch even though the Pacers led throughout, right until the final seconds. OKC ran two exceptional out-of-bounds plays to tie it up. The first came with Westbrook coming off of a curl and Steven Adams sealing off the rim protection to give Westbrook the layup. The second one, with under 5 seconds remaining, saw them do this:
It is nice to see OKC run a last-second play like this where there is actually some thought and application. Instead of letting Westbrook catch the ball high and walk into a long, contested 3, Adams gave him a high pick so that Westbrook was able to plant his feet at the line with nobody in front of him. Extra props to Adams because not only did he make himself ‘wide’ to seal off Teague, but in fact he never even made contact, slipping the screen at the final second, because he knew that he only had to give Russ a moment of daylight.
- The 3rd quarter was brutal for the first 2/3, as OKC once again had trouble getting engaged in any successful offense. However, trailing by 15 with under 2 minutes left in the quarter, OKC put together a nice little 9-3 run to get the lead back to under 10, followed by a Jerami Grant 3-pointer to start off the 4th, setting the stage for their dogged comeback attempt.
- There were two primary nemeses in this game, aside from the general sloppiness. The first was the one thing that OKC was not only supposed to be good at, but they were actually expected to be historically great - rebounding. While they haven’t been bad per se, they are hovering in the middle of the pack, and without this strategic advantage, OKC isn’t getting all of those extra possessions that they did a year ago. I was skeptical when analysts thought OKC would be historically significant in their rebounding, in part because they lost an elite defensive rebounder in #35. When the Thunder loses this micro-battle, it means that they cannot make up for...
- Their 3-point shooting woes. We all knew it would be an issue coming in, and they haven’t done a whole lot to dispel the notion. In fact, OKC did a pretty good job setting the table for open shot attempts, but even their best 3-point shooter, Anthony Morrow, was off the mark, missing all 3 of his attempts. The team finished a sad 10-36 from long range, which means that: a) less inside game meant less points in the paint and free throws; and b) nearly 40% of their shots were of the variety that they’re not very good at.
- In retrospect, the Pacers game, once George was scratched from the line-up, should have been straightforward. Slow down Teague, and you probably win. OKC didn’t do anything to slow down Teague, as he had little trouble getting into the lane or finding his shooters (9 assists) for open looks at the rim as well as beyond the arc (11-22 from 3-point range).
- Elijah Craig small batch, in case you were wondering.
In sum, there is still a long way to go in this season, but that’s just the thing - there is still a long way to go for OKC.