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Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday's loss at Indiana

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 14, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: April 13, 2014

Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, left, shoots under Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, April 13, 2014. The Pacers defeated the Thunder 102-97. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, left, shoots under Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, April 13, 2014. The Pacers defeated the Thunder 102-97. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Would have been cool if the Thunder won out…

  • How glad are you going to be that the Thunder lost this game if it ends up being what helps the Pacers knock off the Heat?
  • That’s really the significance of this game. Indiana desperately needed a win to stay in control of its playoff seeding. With the win, the Pacers’ magic number for the top spot is now just one. That means a win by Indiana or a loss by the Heat secures homecourt advantage through the East Finals for the Pacers. Of course, that’s what Indiana has played all season for, the best record in the conference with an eye toward using it to knock off the Heat in a potential East Finals rematch. If that happens, all of Oklahoma will rejoice — and appreciate this loss.
  • Miami has two games remaining: at Washington and at home against Philly. Both are games Miami could roll in with something at stake. Indiana, meanwhile, has just one game remaining: a game at Orlando. So the Pacers really needed this win.
  • They played like it, too. Indiana looked the part of a desperate team. From the moment Lance Stephenson took the mic just before tip and went all Ric Flair while addressing the crowd (I’ve never seen a player that hype, shouting that much) until the moment he put the finishing touches on his NBA-leading fifth triple-double, the Pacers were playing for keeps.
  • Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Pacers just appeared on the schedule on the wrong night.
  • The Pacers had dropped eight of 11 and nine of their past 15. So they were facing some legitimate questions coming into today’s game. But the way Thunder coach Scott Brooks put it, Indiana is still an elite team. “What surprises me is that people are down on them. They’re a good basketball team,” Brooks said. “They’re well-coached. Their record speaks for itself. In an 82-game season, you’re going to have some tough times. Unfortunately for them they’re having it late in the season. But all it takes is a game or two to get back on. We had ours about three or four weeks ago where we didn’t play as well as we would have liked. Every team is going to go through that.”
  • This, to me, felt like that game that gets the Pacers back on track. Of course, I thought the same thing when they knocked off Miami on March 26. And, of course, the Pacers promptly lost six of eight after that. But something about beating the Thunder has a way of turning teams’ seasons around. Just ask Brooklyn.
  • The biggest takeaway from this one for me was Kevin Durant’s shooting struggles continuing. I wrote about that for Monday’s paper. Durant had some candid comments about his shot selection, admitting that he’s simply taking bad 3-point attempts. If I’m a Thunder head, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Because not only did we already know that, but it also means Durant isn’t worn down. When asked if fatigue is a factor in his settling for and struggling with so many 3s, Durant said it wasn’t. But his candid response is what makes this denial different from all the others. He looked himself squarely in the mirror and told it like it was.
  • Durant went 2-for-11 from 3-point range Sunday. Just seven days earlier, in a road loss at Phoenix, Durant hoisted a career-high 15 3-pointers. He hit only four of those. Over the past five games, Durant is just 9-for-39 from that distance. Many of those looks have come up short or simply been off line, a sign that Durant’s legs might indeed be noodles. But he insisted that isn’t the case. “I’m just taking bad ones,” Durant said of his shot selection. “I’m taking bad 3s.”
  • Keep in mind that Durant leads the league in minutes played. Another 42 today bumped his tally to 3,034. Kiss of death? 
  • Reggie Jackson on KD: “A guy who’s in the 90-50-40 club, I don’t think you ever lose faith in his ability to put the ball in the basket. He has a miraculous knack for making shots, creating space and finding shots. We’re never going to doubt him.”
  • Jackson had to leave the game early in the fourth quarter after running into what he called an unexpected screen set by Pacers center Ian Mahinmi. He underwent what a team official called “precautionary X-rays” and did not return. Although Jackson passed all the medical tests administered, he was unsure about his status for Monday’s game at New Orleans. “I don’t know. We’ll see how I wake up (Monday),” he said. “I’m kind of happy (Sunday) was an early game. I’m going to try to steal as much time as I can and hopefully wake up feeling great. So we’ll just see how things are going (Monday).”
  • Jackson confirmed that it was a neck injury but added this: “It’s not too much pain. A little stiffness. But I’ll be all right.” And this: “It came out better than what people might think. I can’t say I’m necessarily super injured. So I’m grateful for that, thankful for that. Blessed.”
  • Jackson didn’t appear to be in good shape after the game. He was extremely, and I mean extremely, stiff. He stood gingerly, walked gingerly and sat gingerly. When he had to bend over to pick up an article of clothing, he did it without flexing his back. When he had to step onto a chair to grab spot and pull down his hairbrush, he did it with as little movement possible. I’d be surprised if he played Monday. With so little at stake against an injury-plagued Pelicans team, I can’t see the Thunder throwing him out there.
  • If Jackson can’t go, that would mean 39-year-old Derek Fisher is likely to start. Because Russell Westbrook will get the night off to rest, Brooks said. It’s all part of the limiting him on back-to-backs plan.
  • Nick Collison was among the walking wounded today, too. He left the game midway through the second quarter after taking an elbow to the nose from Mahinmi (what’s up with this dude?). Collison, however, returned to the game. But not before needing eight stitches. When he walked off the floor after the injury, he did so with blood rushing down his face for the second time in seven games. More street cred!
  • Collison’s body was “marked up like the subway in Harlem.” He’s got welts on his left wrist and right forearm, bruises red marks on his torso and now eight stitches on his nose. That’s not even counting the staples you can’t see that he needed on top of his head after another elbow against San Antonio and the shot to the groin — I didn’t look for or see any markings there — he took from Gerald Green in the Phoenix game. Collison said he’ll play Monday and probably will without the bandage that covered his Chucky-looking stitches. That ought to be cool.
  • I talked to Collison about all his punishment and he could only laugh at how it always comes in waves.  But the crazy thing about it this year is Collison is playing a career-low 16.8 minutes. You’d think he wouldn’t be subject to these beatings. But, as he said, it’s one thing you never can predict or control.
  • The part that stinks about this loss? The Thunder now has no shot to increase its winning percentage for a record-tying sixth straight season. It would have been cool if OKC could have done that, especially given that the last five seasons have been 50-plus win seasons.
  • Brooks on the five-year feat: “Give our guys a lot of credit. They come back every year. The expectations are high, but ours are higher. We don’t rest on what we’ve done. We focus on what we’re going to do. That’s been our mentality. That’s why we’ve improved over the years every year. We don’t listen to a lot of the things that are said about us. If you do, one day you’re good, one day you’re bad. And then you get confused and you’re on a roller-coaster ride. If you stay solid on what you do and what you believe in, and you’ve got good players and they’re going to continue to work hard together and for each other, you’re going to have success. And that’s been our model for six seasons now and that’s not going to change.”
  • The Thunder started the game with Thabo Sefolosha on Paul George and KD on Lance Stephenson. Smart move. No sense in wearing out Durant or risking early foul trouble (like George got into as he was defending KD). Miami handles LeBron James like that against Durant, and it works like a charm. But the Thunder has started Durant on James in the meetings with the Heat only to see KD pick up early fouls. I’m all for taking pride in covering your man. But what the Thunder did in this one is the smart approach.
  • Another potential snippet of the playoff rotation was perhaps seen when Thabo picked up his second foul 3 1/2 minutes in. Caron Butler was summoned off the bench. Kind of tells you where and how he fits if you didn’t already know.
  • Kendrick Perkins did a fantastic job on Roy Hibbert and, early on, David West. Perk rebounded well from the start and made things tough on Hibbert and West on the block and mid-post.
  • Related: Hibbert went scoreless on 0-for-9 shooting. He added just six rebounds and had only one blocked shot. He played just two minutes in the fourth quarter.
  • Probably should be a surprise that the more athletic Mahinmi had much more success than Hibbert. More athletic bigs are not the Thunder’s strong suit.
  • Perk also picked up two first-quarter fouls, bringing in Steven Adams against Hibbert late in the first quarter. It was a good test for the rookie. And Adams immediately intercepted an entry pass from Stephenson to Hibbert. Adams also hedged and switched fairly well, keeping perimeter players in front of him. Adams played just 13 minutes. He probably needed about 20.
  • My media seat tonight gave me another example of how there’s a huge difference between watching the game on television and being in the arena, especially close to the action if you can get there. In Indiana, the visiting media sits on the baseline by the basket closest to the visitor’s bench (thanks Pacers PR staff!). It’s an incredible seat. Milwaukee had the same seat up until this year. Now, if I’m not mistaken, Chicago is the only other team that provides a similar seat, only it’s on the opposite side of the basket that the bench is on. In Indy, you’re right there by the 15th man (and, man, does Grant Jerrett look young). So in addition to hearing and seeing all kinds of interactions, we get a unique perspective of the game that’s as close as any of us will come to seeing the game (not understanding it but watching it) from a player’s viewpoint. I say all that to say if I watched this first quarter on television I would have been killing Westbrook, probably on Twitter like everybody else, to pass the ball. But being in the building and that close to the action gave me a much different perspective. Even though Russ wasn’t passing that thing, the pressure he was putting on the Pacers was unbelievable. He was going so fast, attacking so hard, that Indiana had to account for him. Even as he was missing shots (seven points on 2-for-7 shooting in the period), he was still a force. And the Pacers had no answer for his relentless attack.
  • OK. Now you’re probably wondering what was the best interaction I heard from that seat. It had to be the Thunder players’ back-and-forth with the fans. Reggie responded to one heckler calling him a bench bum to talk to him when he makes his salary. A nice comeback for anyone trying to diss an NBA bench bum (which Reggie is not). Another came when Hasheem Thabeet responded to some well-mannered fans telling him to sit down because he’s too tall. “Sorry,” Thabeet said. “You got a bad seat.”
  • C.J. Watson nearly outscored the Thunder’s bench by himself. He had 20 of the Pacers’ 41 bench points. The Thunder had just 25.
  • Jackson on Watson: “He did a great job of just playing basketball. Playing free. Really got a lot of his shots off others’ pick and roll. They did a great job moving the ball. We probably need to be a little more active in the pick and roll. We just have to try to get better. They did a great job getting separation in pick and rolls. We ran trying to help. Those are shots we wanted them to take. Maybe get out a little bit earlier and contest even better. But he was just knocking them down today.”
  • In the first half, George and Hibbert had combined for five points on 1-for-13 shooting. Watson and Luis Scola (historic Thunder killer) combined for 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
  • Butler looked like he was about ready to take over at the start of the fourth quarter. That little stepback of his gets ‘em every time.
  • Westbrook was messing around with that after-the-whistle blocked shot at the basket thing the players love to do and busted his butt. Thank God he was OK. The arena showed the replay twice on its huge videoboard (think the NBA’s version of Jerry’s World), and a section of Pacers fans started heckling Russ from that moment on by chanting his last name. Westbrook apparently looked over and grimaced at them at one point (again, I was on the other end and couldn’t see). He had a great response when asked if that kind of heckling gets to him. “No,” he said. “It’s good. It means I’m doing something right if they’re screaming my name.”
  • The Thunder was 0-for-9 from 3 in the first half and 7-for-19 from that distance in the second half.
  • Free throws were all kinds of funny today. OKC outshot Indiana 16-5 from the line in the first half. But Indiana outshot OKC 18-3 in the second half.
  • Brooks on that: “In the first half, we did a good job of attacking and getting to the free throw line. In the second half we took three free throws because we were taking too many jump shots.”
  • The Thunder turned it over just nine times, which is fantastic and wonderful and amazing and whatever else. But somehow, the Pacers still won even though they turned it over 23 times. You don’t see that every day, especially not with the Thunder.
  • Over the last four games, the Thunder has just 34 turnovers. Something’s getting right for the playoffs.
  • David West on his huge block on Durant: “That’s a common play that teams run in the NBA, particularly  to try to get a quick 3. I just sniffed it out right from the start of the play. Just sniffed it out, made a play on the ball.”
  • Up next: at New Orleans on Monday.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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