Pacers 107, Thunder 99
INDIANAPOLIS — How does a young team learn how to close out games?
Perhaps there is no way to speed that process. But until the Thunder figures it out we’re likely in store for many more nights like Friday at Utah and Sunday against Atlanta and Monday at Indiana.
Coach P.J. Carlesimo, in eloquently breaking down how to win close games in the NBA, made closing out games sound so simple.
“We need to play a lot better individual defense when the game is on the line, and we need to take better care of the ball,” he said. “I’m encouraged because our overall defense is much improved. But we need people to step up on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter. It’s not just about making shots. It’s about getting back on defense, guarding your man and defensive rebounding. That’s how you win games.”
Why can’t the Thunder do it? That’s the million dollar question.
Before the final six minutes of tonight’s loss to the Pacers, I thought Oklahoma City played one of its best games of the season. Then it gave up 29 points in the final period, turned the ball over down the stretch and couldn’t make a shot because it continued to settle for jumpers rather than get to the rim.
While some will say this season isn’t about wins, I view every W as a priceless treasure for a young team in search of an identity. Learning is a much more pleasant process when you see your hard work leading to desirable results. Brains tend to shut down when progress isn’t palpable and things seem to be an exercise in futility.
But tonight’s downfall was clear. The Thunder got away from what made it so successful in a first quarter that saw it take a 34-24 advantage and once lead by 15. In the first period, Oklahoma City had 10 assists, six coming from Earl Watson. OKC had just nine in the final three periods.
When the Thunder stopped moving the ball the easy shots dried up. OKC shots 52 percent in the first quarter, and it’s no coincidence that it shot 25 percent in the second (four assists in the period), 41 percent in the third (three assists) and 35 percent in the fourth (two assists).
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