Despite a radical 45 point performance from Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to overcome the Indiana Pacers, 115-111. The Thunder had held the lead since the early second quarter, but the Pacers were able to give the Thunder a serious late run for their money.
Things particularly heated up in the last minute. The Pacers had an inbound, and the Thunder were doing everything to defend the three point line. Kanter got switched onto George, as George ran out to the three point line. But Kanter stuck out his arm too far, and George drew the foul and sank the three. Upon George's completed free throw, the Pacers were down just four.
After a couple of false starts, Westbrook got into the pick and roll with Durant. Durant got past the first line of defense with the ball, but Mahinmi was hedging him at the rim. So Durant tried to force a pass to Kanter. Kanter was covered by George Hill, though. Roberson was open in the corner, but hadn't hit a jump shot all game. Hill stole the ball and was immediately fouled.
George Hill missed a big opportunity though, and only went 1 of 2 from the free throw line. OKC, up three with 35 seconds to go, had a chance to seal the win. It was back to the Westbrook-KD pick and roll, as KD caught the ball and faded on Paul George. The shot went long, and Mahinmi grabbed the rebound. Timeout, Indiana ball, down 3, 13 seconds to go.
The Pacers big play was a weak side flare screen for Paul George. Mahinmi set the screen and rolled to the basket. But KD followed Mahinmi, while Adams switched onto George. Adams ran out to deter the inevitable three, which rimmed out. Rebound KD, two made free throws, and the Thunder were up by 5. The game was basically over at that point.
Just goes to show that Adams will always be the better defensive center, but there are definitely late-game situations in which you can use Kanter. Also, considering this was OKC's third game in four nights, they're an incredibly resilient clutch team.
How the Superstars performed
Last time the Thunder played the Pacers, they doubled Paul George on nearly every play. George became primarily an assist man, and had a season high 10 assists. This time, the Thunder left Kevin Durant on Paul George, and would switch around screens. As a result, George finished the game with 45 points, just three short of his season high.
George was especially effective in transition, and triggered many breaks himself. George also worked around weak and strong side screens, generally succeeding at getting into the paint. Lastly, George was incredibly effective from the corners, as the Thunder would switch or sag on weak side defense and leave him open. When it's all said and done George was 2 of 4 in the final three minutes, which really isn't awful.
Kevin Durant had a great game as well, though it pales in comparison to George's game in terms of numbers. Most impressively, KD hit three off the dribble threes while basically walking up the court today. Incredibly smooth, incredibly easy. Durant also had success driving to the rim, working as the roll man with Westbrook, hitting turnarounds, and finding the big men when he was double-teamed.
Russell Westbrook wasn't as easy to watch. For starters, Westbrook took 6 shots from the top of the three point arc, and made only one. Then, Westbrook was 0 of 4 on cotton shots, made only one turnaround post up, and was 0 of 2 in the paint. About the only area where Russ had a good game was the corners, where he shot 2 of 3. I love it when the ball moves well enough to find Westbrook that deep in an offensive set. Westbrook generally assisted the big men as well, as well as found Roberson once for the signature oop.
The Pacers were swiping at Durant and Westbrook all game, and made the pair combine for 10 total turnovers. Generally Durant and Westbrook would just get too predictable or lazy with their backcourt passes. Serge Ibaka also had some trouble getting the right spacing on his pick and pop.
The Thunder got some serious help from the bench tonight. The most remarkable story is that of Anthony Morrow. Morrow struggled for the most part over the past couple of weeks, returning to the lineup due to the absence of Dion Waiters. But last night, in Philadelphia, Morrow saw no time on the floor whatsoever. Tonight, Morrow only played because Singler was out with pre-game back soreness. Morrow turned out to be essential, hitting two weak side dribble in jumpers from mid-range. Morrow also hit a particularly difficult looking three after receiving a high bullet pass from Westbrook.
Waiters had a remarkably good game off the bench as well. 4 of 6 from the field, but the two missed shots were both really late in the shot clock. There were a few impressive plays from Dion, including an acrobatic layup and a made catch and shoot three. Waiters did have 5 turnovers, including a play where he just stepped out of bounds. But a lot of them were incidental and bad luck. Foye really showed what he could do on offense tonight. A really sick off the dribble three, a transition and one play, and a nice dish to Kanter on a drive. When Foye can attack the defense from the wrong side, he's really effective.
Of course, the usual suspect, Enes Kanter, was a offensive centerpiece. 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting, and 10 rebounds on the game. There were times when Kanter's defense was frustrating, but he generally did his best to commit to pressuring around screens, defending mismatched threes, and protecting the rim against those driving. Offensively, Kanter did his usual pick and roll stuff. Furthermore, in the last five minutes of action, Kanter had 6 points. Four of those were just on putbacks.
The last bench guy, Payne, only had two points at the free throw line in 10 minutes. Defensively, Stuckey got by Payne twice for critical early fourth quarter points.
- Steven Adams was fantastic. 3 steals tonight, with at least two of those being stone cold. 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including yet another tough hook. Most importantly, Adams was a force on the defensive end. You could really tell how much more effectively the Thunder handled the pick and roll when Adams was on the floor. I also liked Adams full-court lob at the end of the first. It actually found KD, who had time to dribble and get off a turnaround in under two seconds. As Brian Davis put it, it would have been the best assist of Adams life.
- Ibaka had another quizzical game. After sitting out last night in Philadelphia with rest, Ibaka finished tonight on the bench with 8 points on 4 of 6 shooting, and just 4 rebounds. Ibaka was 2 of 2 from mid-range, and finished twice on the roll as well. Defensively, Ibaka let Myles Turner range him a couple of times. But Turner was never really able to post Ibaka up. By the end of the game, Donovan probably just wasn't willing to trust Ibaka's ability to guard the perimeter and hit clutch shots. But who knows. Matching up with the Pacers seemed to work well in this case, and Ibaka doesn't exactly do a lot for ball handling.
- Andre Roberson missed a corner three, had an alley-oop dunk while running to the rim from the corner, and got fouled in transition. Solid defense on Monta as always, as Monta only had 11 points on 4 of 10 shooting. Really a huge key tonight.
- The Pacers were 9 of 22 for 40.9% from three tonight. The Thunder struggled particularly when they ran big, because they couldn't account for the perimeter in transition situations. Russell Westbrook also accounted for a good number of Pacer threes by torpedoing himself on offensive plays, or leaving George Hill open.
Donovan livid after that last open Pacers 3. Shoots onto the court to call timeout, turns around and yells for Roberson to check in.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 20, 2016
- OKC goes to the mid-range in the second quarter, better offense output. Threes never there
- Westbrook-Morrow-Roberson-Ibaka-Kanter was an interesting and successful second quarter lineup.
- Scary moment in the early fourth quarter, when KD was nearly injured stopping a Paul George drive at the rim. OKC had to take a timeout while KD recovered.
- Russell Westbrook has the most Triple-Doubles in a season since 1988-89. Westbrook now at 14, would need four more to pass Magic Johnson for the most triple-doubles in a season since the 1960s. there are 11 games left in the season.
Thunder Wonder: Steven Adams, whose defense basically won us the game.
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, historic
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook, absolutely no shot tonight
Thunder Plunderer: Paul George, KD certainly couldn't stop him
Next Game: Versus the Houston Rockets, Tuesday, March 22nd, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
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