Paul George scored 36 points but ultimately was unable to get the win in his return to Indiana, as the Pacers defeated the Thunder 108-106. The Pacers were without Victor Oladipo, but the other player the Thunder traded for Paul George, Domantas Sabonis, led the way for Indiana, putting up 26 points on just 12 shots off the bench to defeat his old team.
Despite a second half collapse from OKC, George looked to be on the cusp of a heroic performance in his old building, scoring 5 straight points by isolating Bojan Bogdanovic in the final 2 minutes to give Oklahoma City a 2 point lead. When Sabonis tied the game with 57 seconds to go, the Thunder immediately gave the ball to George again. This time however, Wesley Matthews was able to pressure George into losing the handle twice and then stepping out of bounds. PG nearly made up for it by stealing a pass from Bogdanovic that he read the whole way, but Darren Collison immediately stole the ball back, as George attempted to get the ball back to Russell Westbrook. The Thunder were able to force Indiana into a tough mid range shot, something OKC was able to succeed in doing all night, but Wesley Matthews tipped in the missed shot to put Indiana up two with less than 2 seconds remaining. A last ditch 3 from Westbrook hit the rim and bounced up but didn’t drop in, sending the Thunder home with the loss.
Westbrook had another triple double, finishing with 19-14-11 but took 18 shots to get his 19 points. George had 36-6-5 on 10-23 shooting and was generally excellent for OKC despite the loss. Steven Adams had 17 points and 9 rebounds but struggle defending the pick and roll down the stretch. Sabonis led the Pacers in scoring with his 26 points off the bench, while Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 23 points on 7-16 shooting.
It was a tale of two half for OKC tonight. Their half court defense was stellar for the entire first quarter, forcing Indiana into a ton of mid range jump shots. OKC’s offense early on was not able to capitalize on those stops as much as they should have- on two consecutive transition attempts OKC left points on the floor, with Russ unable to handle two passes from PG. the second miscue led to a wide open transition 3 from Bogdanovic (losing out on those four early points turned out to be huge in a game OKC lost by only two). The good defense continued however, and the Thunder slowly began to get into a rhythm on offense. OKC held a 14-12 lead when Paul George went to the bench halfway through the quarter.
Even without their anchor the Thunder’s defense was stiff, and they slowly extended the lead. Russell Westbrook unsurprisingly led the charge and he finished the quarter with 6 points on 3-6 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists against only 1 turnover. When PG returned with 2 minutes to go the lead stood at 22-17. The PG + Bench unit kept their foot on the gas pushed the lead further over the final 2 minutes. Markieff Morris, returning from his neck injury, had a quick 5 points (while also giving up a wide open 3 on the defensive end), and OKC held a 29-22 lead at the end of the quarter.
Sabonis opened things up with 5 points against his former team to start the second, but Paul George responded with 10 of his own in just the first 2 and a half minutes of the quarter, capped with a thunderous dunk. By the time PG headed back to the bench at the 8:35 mark OKC’s lead stood at 42-30. Abdel Nader hit back to back 3 pointers off assists by George and Westbrook to push the lead to 15.
After taking timeout, the Pacers were able to get into the lane, generating 6 straight points right at the rim off some sloppy defense from OKC. The Thunder responded with a barrage of 3 pointers. The Pacers were also able to generate some clean looks from beyond the arc in the quarter, including some caused by unforgivable mistakes by OKC, but the Pacers missed most of them, finishing the half 3-12 behind the arc against 9-17 for OKC. The Thunder led 63-50 at the half, and looked to be on their way to a third straight victory on the back of their stellar defense.
The third quarter started lethargically for both teams, with the Thunder taking 90 seconds to get their first points and Indiana not scoring until the 9:30 mark. The Thunder stymied Indiana, repeatedly forcing them to use the entire shot clock and generating multiple turnovers. Like the first quarter, OKC was not as effective at capitalizing on those stops as they could have been, but they were sill efficient enough to extend the lead. A Russ three pointer pushed it to 70-52, and the onslaught continued from there, and PG got the lead up to 19 off an and-one on a ridiculous layup finish.
Slowly however, the Pacers were able to begin clicking on offense, getting more dribble penetration and drawing plenty of fouls. The Pacers also found success dumping the ball to Domantas Sabonis in the post, where Nerlens Noel and Markieff Morris were totally unable to contain him. The Thunder were initially able to respond well offensively, but after Russell Westbrook went to the bench, they were unable to generate consistent good looks, with a number of turnovers and low percentage jump shots, and Indiana closed the gap to single digits. In total, the Pacers produced 12 points at the free throw line in the 3rd, with Bogdanovic getting to the line 6 times and Sabonis, 4.
Paul George pushed the lead back to 10 at the line with free throws with only 2 seconds left in the quarter, but Cory Joseph, who was otherwise utterly ineffective, banked in a half court 3 at the buzzer to make the score 88-81. An ominous sign in a game OKC lost by 2.
The 4th quarter started just as slowly. Domantas Sabonis got a wide open dunk to cut the lead to 5 on a blown coverage by Morris, who was part of multiple such breakdowns on the night, and then neither team scored for nearly three minutes. The Thunder proved incapable of generating any quality looks with Westbrook on the bench.
When he returned, Abdel Nader, who finished with 10 points in one of his better games, was able to get free throws off a strong cut to the rim, which he quickly followed up with a dunk in transition to push the lead back to 9. The Pacers initially tried to continue to play through Sabonis in the post, but Steven Adams was able to mostly stymie him. The Pacers responded by using Sabonis as a screener in the pick and roll, forcing Adams to defend him in space and allowing Sabonis to play make off the short roll and use his speed to get to the rim. The Pacers also finally began drilling their 3’s in the quarter, and with their offense clicking they were able to draw within 1 point with under 4 minutes to go.
Russell Westbrook pushed the lead to 3 off a bank shot, but on the ensuing Pacers possession Dennis Schroder, dreadful all game, was called for a flagrant 1 foul when he hit Sabonis in the face trying to get around a screen. Sabonis hit both shots, but the Pacers were unable to take the lead on the ensuing possession. Russ missed a tough turnaround jumper to give Indiana the ball back, and Myles Turner got a wide open dunk via pick and roll to put Indiana in front. The Pacers stymied OKC on the next play, and Westbrook ultimately attempted an off the dribble 3 with the shot clock winding down. Bogdanovic pushes the lead to 3 on a drive.
PG’s 5 straight points put OKC back up 2, but on the ensuing possession Jerami Grant was guarding Sabonis, who easily worked his way around Grant in the post to tie the game and set up the frantic finish.
The loss drops OKC to 42-27, falling from 3rd all the way to 5th. OKC will be back in action on Saturday night against another team with a former Thunder: the Golden State Warriors.