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Monta Ellis fuels comeback Pacers victory over the Thunder, 101-98

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Westbrook had a season high 18 assists.

I don't think Indiana Jones got out of this pickle.
I don't think Indiana Jones got out of this pickle.
W. Bennett Berry

The Thunder headed into the fourth quarter with a 9 point lead, yet somehow managed to lose to the Indiana Pacers, 98-101. The game came down to a couple of critical final possessions. With about a minute to go, Westbrook was fouled while posting up George Hill. Westbrook sank both free throws, putting the Thunder up by three. The Pacers then responded by parking Myles Turner in the corner. Turner hit the first three of his NBA career, tying the game for the first time since the end of the first quarter.

Under these circumstances, the Thunder went to a Westbrook-Durant pick and roll. But the pick and roll failed, stranding Durant out on the three point line. Durant decided to jack up a contested three with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. No one else on the Thunder offense moved. On the other end, Monta Ellis used a Myles Turner screen to get separation from Dion Waiters, and hit a three. With the Pacers up three, Donovan drew up a play for Westbrook to run around two screens to the hoop. It almost worked, but Westbrook's layup tumbled out. Things looked pretty hopeless, as OKC intentionally fouled Paul George with 10 seconds left.

Then, a ray of hope. Paul George goes 1 of 2 from the line. Westbrook makes for a fast break three, but it was a ruse. A quick pass found KD, who was running around an Adams screen. Money. The Thunder are down one with five seconds to go, and again intentionally foul Paul George. George makes both shots, and the Thunder have no timeouts. Westbrook sprints up the floor, heaving a deep shot up with about 1.5 seconds left. It airballs, and the Thunder lose the game.

The Pacers might have gotten lucky, but this is ultimately on the Thunder offense for throwing away some critical possessions. In the last 3:30, Waiters, Ibaka, and Adams all wasted a possession. Waiters missed a three, Ibaka got crowded in the post, and Adams had it poked away. In fact, in the final 8 minutes, there was only one non Durant/Westbrook score. OKC ran out of options.

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartWestbrook 18 Asts HighlightsWestbrook 23 Pts HighlightsKevin Durant 31 Pts HighlightsPaul George 22 Pts HighlightsPaul George 10 Asts HighlightsIan Mahinmi 19 Pts Highlights

Thunder bench looks weak....again

Despite early indications that Foye might play, we didn't see him at all tonight. So we saw the same cast of bench characters we always see, plus Nick Collison for a little bit of post help. The result was awful. With Durant and Westbrook off the floor, the Thunder just could not find any offense. In the first 3:22 of the second quarter, the bench scored 2 points, while missing five jump shots and committing a pick-6 turnover. And in the first 3:13 of the fourth quarter, the Thunder's bench scored 4 points while missing four jumpshots.

I'll admit that the Thunder's bench was at least decent defensively. During these two stretches, they only allowed a total of 12 points. So OKC's bench was beaten 12-6, which isn't game-breakingly awful. But when Enes Kanter is on the floor, why does this lineup have to resort to such low percentage looks?

Andre Roberson, you are missed

Monta Ellis did a number on Kyle Singler and Dion Waiters tonight, scoring 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting. If Andre Roberson were in the lineup, it certainly would have been a different story. But the Thunder just didn't have anyone who could bother Ellis around screens.

What was so disconcerting about Ellis' performance? How clutch it all was. Ellis scored over half of his points after the two minute mark of the fourth quarter. Before that point Ellis had been relatively quiet, primarily scoring in transition. But Ellis was given the floor with the bench in the second half, and became the focus of the Pacer offense. Ellis basically attacked the rim in the late third, with the Kanter-Collison frontcourt back in. OKC countered with a Adams/Kanter frontcourt to start the first half, and Ellis used his speed to burn by Singler for a couple of jumpers.

For a moment, Ellis went to the bench. But in the late fourth, Monta rubbed out Waiters for a couple of really clutch three point jumpers.

Solid Defending of Paul George

Kevin Durant was beyond excellent when it came to shutting down Paul George tonight. KD was always fighting around screens, and did his darndest to keep George away from the rim in ISO situations. When you light a fire under KD's butt, he can be an elite defender.

As a team, the Thunder assumed the strategy of doubling George around every screen. With George fresh off an All-Star performance where he nearly set a scoring record, the Thunder's strategy made sense. I mean, George barely has more assists than he does turnovers.

But the strategy backfired a little bit. George shot 6 of 14, which is about the best you can hope for on any given night. But the real failure was that George ended up using the pressure to his advantage. I mean, George dished a season high 10 assists, and only turned the ball over twice. Most of George's assists were to the big men Mahinmi and Turner. Turner's offensive presence was expected, and it was nice to see Turner score primarily off of assists rather than his own moves. But Ian Mahinmi had a season high 19 points, which is just ridiculous. Apart from feeding off of George, Mahinmi was extremely active in transition. Mahinmi straight up outran the Thunder defense a couple of times.

Durant: Pretty Good, Westbrook: Excellent

On the surface, Kevin Durant had a fantastic offensive game. 50% shooting from the floor, 31 points, 3 assists. But Durant also went 2 of 9 from beyond the arc, and had 5 turnovers. Durant's third quarter was particularly sour, as he committed three turnovers and shot 1 of 5 from the floor. Ultimately, KD's game was hindered a little bit by the fact that he couldn't get to the rim. I mean, Durant only had 4 shots within 10 feet of the rim tonight.

Still, props to Durant for what he did do. Lots of pops off of mid-range screens for open shots. Loved the activity off ball. Durant was also effective with the ball, and shot around screens effectively. Heck, KD's three went in when it was important, as he scored a clutch one to give the Thunder a chance to tie it in the final seconds.

Westbrook's game was nearly flawless, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to talk about. A season high 18 assists. Below average 2 turnovers. 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting. Westbrook's opponent, George Hill, only had 9 points on 3 of 11 shooting. Really, there wasn't much more Westbrook could have done to help the Thunder win this game.

What sticks out to me about Westbrook's performance tonight is the cotton shot. Westbrook has become a much more post-oriented player this year, but it was nice to see that the mid-range shot was still in Westbrook's repertoire tonight. Whether in transition or around a screen, it's always money. Great for taking advantage of a sagging Indiana defense. 6 of 8 from mid-range.

Slammin' Notes

  • Serge Ibaka had a really strange game. 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting at the end of the first half. The Pacer defense was keying in on Westbrook and Durant, allowing Ibaka to slip out for open looks. But Ibaka went 1 of 5 in the second half, and only took two shots in the fourth quarter. Ibaka's mid-range shot simply left him, and the Pacers made more of a commitment to protect the rim. A very solid 11 boards though.
  • Steven Adams lost the tipoff, which is a rarity. But Adams forced a jumpball some time later, and won that ensuing tipoff with Paul George. On both tipoffs, Adams would have his hand shoved away by the ref. But Adams pushed his hand right back in, and the ref allowed it both times.
  • As for Adams game tonight, it was solid. I liked the pressure he showed on Paul George, as well as his general rim protection throughout the game. I didn't like that Adams lost the ball late in the fourth, or that he badly missed a long jumper. But Adams did have a couple of nice pick and roll finishes, as well as a nice assist to Ibaka under the rim off the roll.
  • Dion Waiters was 0-6, and allowed Ellis to score in transition a lot. Two missed shots at the rim, two missed corner threes, and two missed mid-range shots. The only plays that really made sense were the threes. The rim charges were against a couple of guys, and the mid-range shots were traditional Waiters shots. Honestly I didn't see much of Dion otherwise. But in the gamethread, longtime Waiters fan Irishsecra is insisting that he was open really often. Given how successfully the Pacers were protecting the rim in the second half, I'm not surprised.
  • Enes Kanter tried to do too much tonight. So many times he was have the ball with two guys on him under the rim. And so many times, Kanter would not pass the ball. The Pacers are just the rare team that knows what Kanter is going to do, and have the personnel to stop him. I mean, Kanter was 3 of 12 in the paint tonight, which is just un-Kanteresque. Kanter's only scores came off of the space that was created for him by Durant or Westbrook. Nice corner three though. If Kanter corner threes can become reliable, than we're seriously in business.
  • Cameron Payne shot 3 of 6 tonight, which is pretty decent. Payne took what the defense gave him around screens, and got a really lucky bounce on one of the jumpers. Opposing PG Joe Young beat Payne coast to coast a couple times, but missed his jumpers and evened things out.
  • Nick Collison had an embarrassing travel call when running into the paint, but also had a nice assist for a KD dunk. Just a ho-hum game for him, since LaVoy Allen isn't really an offensive threat.
  • Anthony Morrow did what he does. 1 of 4 from beyond the arc is a little bit disappointing, but I'm just kinda glad he was able to take that many. Heck, even Kanter set him up once with a pass and screen. Still, nice couple of mid-range shots around screens by Morrow. Those are always money for him if he can find space.
  • Kyle Singler was somehow +11 tonight, highest on the team. But as you can tell from how I was talking about Monta Ellis above, I thought Singler wasn't very good. A couple of missed open threes, along with an embarrassing drive where he threw the ball away, expecting a foul. But Singler did help protect the rim and force a couple of jump shots early on. I might being too hard on Singler, but I guess I want to see more from him on offense.
  • OKC was 5 of 26 beyond the arc, yet still couldn't find a way to play Foye....
  • Traditional Thunder killer C.J. Miles didn't play. Whaaaaa
  • Durant 38 minutes, Westbrook 37 minutes. Looks like neither of them is going to get a break any time soon, unfortunately.
  • I kinda feel like Solomon Hill and Chase Budinger are part of the reason the Thunder had the lead at all. Combined 0-4 in 23 minutes, and their missed shots looked pretty open.

Marina's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, MVP-like numbers

Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, clutch as ever

Thunder Blunder: Enes Kanter, for his poor offensive performance in the post

Thunder Plunderer: Monta Ellis, the most athletic 30 year old in the NBA

Next Game: Versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sunday, February 21st, 2:30 PM Central Standard Time.

What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!