Pacers 103, Thunder 98
Nuggets from my notebook from Friday’s loss at Indiana.
- The Thunder is no longer in first place. This loss, coupled with San Antonio’s win over New Orleans, dropped the Thunder to second. And unless the Spurs start resting players down the stretch, which is a likely scenario, the Thunder might not be able to regain home-court advantage through the Western Conference Had a good time. Hope you did too. Finals.
- This is the first three-game losing streak of the season. Obviously, it comes at a terrible time.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks on the skid: “We knew going into these last number of games that we were going to have to play well to get some wins. Our guys are going to bounce back. That’s how they are.”
- Brooks then said what his team has to do better. Brace yourselves: “We just got to play better. We got to start the game better. We got to play every possession better. We got to end quarters better. We got to come out in the second half better.”
- The bad start is exactly what cost the Thunder tonight. OKC got down 32-20 after the first quarter and trailed by 15 at halftime. All the momentum was with the Pacers after that, and their lead eventually grew to 24 midway through the third. The chances of coming back from that were slim.
- I give the game ball to two players. Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Amundson. They completely changed the game with their defense. They defend the ball screen extremely well and completely shut off the Thunder’s ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. Surprisingly, Hansbrough and Amundson had no problem staying with Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Derek Fisher when forced to switch onto them late in the first quarter and early in the second. Those two shut down the Thunder’s first option and, really, OKC never countered with a second option. It threw the Thunder’s offense entirely out of whack and allowed the Pacers to go on a big run, which was actually 11-2 to end the first quarter.
- When the bigs were having so much success defending the pick-and-roll, it was clear that Brooks should have gone small. The downside obviously would have been exposing the team to getting bullied on the inside. But the Thunder had no choice. Instead, Brooks stayed with his traditional units for far too long and it resulted in a 24-point deficit at one point.
- As soon as Brooks went small, going with Westbrook, Fisher, Harden, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins with 5:39 left in the third, the Thunder responded with a 9-0 run. The defensive intensity got kicked up a notch, with the quicker players flying to the balls and using their quick hands to get steals and deflections, and that led to transition opportunities — something the Thunder didn’t have going since early in the opening quarter. Brooks wisely stuck with that lineup the rest of the way and gave the Thunder a chance to win.
- Would have liked to see Daequan Cook get the nod over Fisher during at least a portion of that small ball stretch. At least start with D.C., and if he’s not hitting his shot then go to Fish. But to automatically resort to Fish…meh.
- Speaking of, it’s safe to say that Fish has taken Cook’s minutes. End of story. Cook’s just getting token time now, just enough to spell KD for a brief time. The reality is that, with Fish in the fold, Brooks has reverted to a nine-man rotation.
- OKC fought hard to get back in it but couldn’t get closer than 10 when it really mattered. On seven, count ‘em, seven, occasions, the Thunder got within 10 points in the fourth quarter but couldn’t cut it to single digits. When the Thunder finally did, getting a fast break layup from Westbrook, it was just 1:41 remaining.
- Roy Hibbert’s length is a problem. He could get his shot over anybody the Thunder had all night.
- But that length couldn’t help him on the other end. Because Durant’s poster dunk over Hibbert…my goodness. Give KD the play of the week right now.
- Funny how everybody on the Thunder’s bench jumped up immediately after KD’s dunk…everybody except for Nick Collison. There’s no doubt in my mind old Nick would have been more impressed had KD taken a charge.
- KD finished with the quietest 44 I’ve ever seen. I looked up and he had 39!
- That sort of was one of the problems in this one. Durant, Westbrook and Harden scored 75 of the Thunder’s 98 points. That’s 76.5 percent of the scoring coming from three players. It’s been proven, time and time and time again, that when the Thunder doesn’t have more balanced scoring the end result is a loss or a dogfight of a victory. On the year, those three average 67 percent of the scoring…but 77 percent of the load is way too much.
- Westbrook finished one assist shy of a triple-double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. He had just three turnovers to boot. Yet, I’m much more impressed with all the little things Russ did in this one. Dude played this game like it was the Class 5A state title. He played his heart out. He hustled all night long and made a ton of plays to keep the Thunder in it. He was flying in for rebounds, diving on the floor for loose balls and even drew a pivotal charge at one point. Great effort by young fella tonight.
- When the Thunder was battling back in the fourth quarter, Russ hit a huge 3-pointer right after Leandro Barbosa’s 3-ball that put the Pacers up 13. It was the first defining moment of the Thunder’s resiliency, a cold-blooded answer to trim the deficit back to 10 and send a message that the Pacers were going to have to put away the (still) Western Conference leaders.
- And then Danny Granger answered with an even bigger, even more cold-blooded trey, putting the Pacers back up by 13. That sequence, which came around the 10-minute mark of the final period, characterized the Thunder’s comeback effort.
- I think the Thunder really does care about home-court advantage throughout the West Finals. I really do. Coaches and players insist it doesn’t matter. But the looks on players’ faces after the game spoke volumes.
- Up next. Toronto on Sunday.
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