Before Sunday night's game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Indiana coach Frank Vogel didn't claim to have all the answers on how to beat the Thunder, but his Pacers have the desired size, length and athleticism to defend any team in the league.
“We have the matchups to at least give ourselves a chance to come here and get a W,” Vogel said.
Vogel primarily was speaking of Thunder All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. What Vogel soon learned is he should have made mention of sixth man Kevin Martin and in the end there is no one who can match Westbrook's ridiculous athleticism.
Boosted by a 22-point first-half outburst off the bench from Martin and punctuated by a late-game flurry from Westbrook, the Thunder posted a 104-93 victory over the pesky Pacers to push its winning streak to eight games.
Against the league's stingiest defense, a sellout crowd of 18,203 appreciatively watched OKC score 100-plus points for the 12th straight contest while improving to 17-4 on the season, tied with San Antonio for the NBA's best record.
With his teammates struggling to score early, Martin ignited the Thunder when he entered at the 4:55 mark of the first quarter.
In a span of 15 first-half minutes, Martin shot 6 for 7 from the field, 3 for 4 from 3-point range and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line for 22 points. He finished with 24 points and shot 7 for 12.
“Just being aggressive and just doing what I've been doing for years,” the 29-year-old Martin said of his performance. “It was just one of those games where you kind of felt it.”
It was with 3:45 left in the game when Westbrook took control.
It began when the 6-foot-3 Westbrook blocked the shot of 7-foot 2 Indiana center Roy Hibbert, which led to a 14-footer from Westbrook on the ensuing possession, then a steal and another buried 14-footer on the next possession, and eventually an 18-footer to end all scoring with 1:02 remaining.
Then, in Westbrook's typical maniac manner, he committed a turnover with 27.9 seconds left and stole the ball back exactly two seconds later literally with a smile on his face.
Yes, Westbrook heard the crowd react when he blocked Hibbert's shot.
“Definitely,” Westbrook said. “Plays like can change the whole momentum of the game and that was one of those plays. I'm just happy it went our way.”
Before the block, Westbrook pretty much had been chillin' offensively, starting out 1 for 5 from the field and never heating up.
He was 4 for 13 from the floor before taking center-stage and finished 7 for 17 en route to 21 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks (Lance Stephenson was his other victim).
The Thunder's defense sparked its game-deciding spurt against the determined Pacers (10-11), and Westbrook was the fire starter.
“When you defend and rebound,” Westbrook said, “it gives yourself an opportunity to go out on a break, get easy baskets and gets shots to start falling.”
While Westbrook and Durant (27 points on 9-for-24 shooting) combined to shoot 39.0 percent from the field, their teammates shot a collective 60.0 percent (21 for 35).
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka scored 10 of his 12 points after intermission and finished one rebound shy of a double-double.
OKC out-rebounded the NBA's top rebounding team 40-34, holding the Pacers 13 boards below their 47.0 average.
Indiana also entered as the league leader in fewest points allowed (91.2) and opponent field-goal percentage (. 409), while the Thunder was the NBA's highest-scoring (106.2) and the best-shooting team from multiple directions — field goals (. 492), 3-pointers (. 426) and free throws (. 837).
OKC shot 48.7 percent from the field and 83.3 percent from the line, but just 26.3 percent from 3-point range against the vaunted Indiana defense.
“We have a lot of guys on the team that take pride in stopping other teams on doing what they're good at doing,” Westbrook said. “I think we did a good job of doing that tonight.”