T.J. McConnell
(Matt Kryger)

Game Rewind: Pacers 121, Thunder 117

Friday, March 31 at 7:00 PM ET at Gainbridge Fieldhouse

Game Recap: Pacers 121, Thunder 117

Game Rewind

Two of the youngest, fastest teams in the NBA raced to the finish in Indianapolis on Friday night. But it was the cool, collected performance of a veteran that helped steer them there.

At the final buzzer, it was the Indiana Pacers (34-44) that came out in front of the Oklahoma City Thunder (38-40), 121-117, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

The Pacers led by just one point with three minutes left in the game, but didn’t surrender it in the waning seconds as they snapped a four-game losing streak.

“It was a great basketball game,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “Very, very competitive. Oklahoma City is an edgy team. They just keep coming at you, at you, at you. Our guys just stayed the course and made some amazing plays down the stretch."

With 6.8 seconds left, up by three points, the Pacers intentionally fouled the Thunder, who then converted both free throws, before rookie Bennedict Mathurin closed out the game by making a trio of free throws for the Pacers.

Mathurin finished with 15 points while seasoned point man T.J. McConnell, coming off the bench, had a team-high 21 points with nine rebounds and eight assists. Rookie Andrew Nembhard scored 18 points and dished out six assists and Jalen Smith totaled 12 points and 15 rebounds.

“I think it's definitely a little bit of the shotmaking, but it's also the players that are around me – especially Buddy (Hield) he attracts a lot of attention, runs towards the ball a lot and just creates a lot of confusion," McConnell said of his performance. "And the other guys around me are shotmakers, so it's easy for me to get downhill so it's a credit to them as well.”

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Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 39 points on 11-for-20 shooting, including making all 17 of his free throw attempts, while Josh Giddey collected 21 points and seven rebounds and Luguentz Dort had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Pacers finished 45-for-98 (12-for-41 3-point range) from the field while the Thunder made 42 of 88 shots, including just 4-for-30 from beyond the arc. While the Pacers limited the Thunder from deep, the visitors outscored them 72-46 in the paint.

All season long, the Pacers and Thunder have ranked among the top-three fastest teams in the NBA. Currently, they’re tied for the second fastest pace, according to NBA.com.

Going into the 2022-2023 season, the Pacers had the 10th youngest team and the Thunder were the youngest of all 30 teams.

Indiana was without its top two scorers in the game, as Myles Turner sat out for a fourth straight game, due to a sore left ankle, while Tyrese Haliburton missed a third straight game due to a right ankle sprain and sprained left elbow. Chris Duarte also missed the game due to a sore ankle, and hasn’t played in eight of the last nine games.

In the first quarter, the high-speed squads showed off their athleticism.

Indiana made 16 of 26 field goal attempts, including 4-for-11 from 3-point range, in the opening quarter to take an early 36-32 lead. OKC, however, also came out firing off the tip, shooting 70 percent (14-for-20) in the first quarter.

Gilgeous-Alexander scored 14 of the Thunder’s first 24 points, but the Pacers answered every bucket.

After trading the lead five times to start the game, the Pacers were able to get some separation after Mathurin scored back-to-back baskets to put the Pacers up 31-26 with 1:48 on the clock.

A dunk by Isaiah Jackson and a 3-pointer from Buddy Hield in the last 35 seconds gave the Pacers a four-point edge at the of 12 minutes.

OKC retook the lead early in the second quarter by starting with a mini 6-0 run, but a 3-pointer from Aaron Nesmith sparked a 10-2 Pacers streak to put the Blue & Gold up 50-42 with seven minutes left in the half.

The Pacers’ lead never swelled to more than eight points before intermission, but the Blue & Gold were able to stay ahead at 65-61.

At the break, the Pacers were shooting 51 percent overall and the Thunder were at 57.8 percent.

The Thunder retook the lead in the third quarter by going 11-for-13 from the free throw line.

OKC’s first 3-pointer of the game gave them the lead at 70-69 early in the third quarter before the teams traded the lead three times.

From 4:31 to 2:41 in the third quarter the Thunder went on a 9-0 run, on seven made free throws, to lead 91-81.

While the Pacers’ bench narrowed the gap, the Pacers trailed 94-90 going into the fourth quarter.

Indiana started the final frame on a 10-4 run, behind 3-pointers from McConnell and Hield, to lead 100-99 with 9:30 left in the game.

However, a 9-0 Thunder run then put the visitor back ahead before the Pacers again had to fight to retake the lead.

Indiana didn’t trail in the last three minutes despite OKC coming within a possession of the lead on multiple occasions down the stretch. Down by three points with the ball with 2.5 seconds left, the Thunder turned the ball over.

"This is a really good experience game for our young guys," Carlisle said. "Oklahoma City is playing for the playoffs. They're playing all their guys and they're going for this. …. We (withstood) some pretty big runs.”

Indiana goes on the road to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.

Inside the Numbers

Seven Pacers players finished in double-digit scoring. Indiana is 4-6 this season when at least seven or more score 10+ in a game.

McConnell finished with a team-high 21 points in the game. It’s the first time he has led the Pacers in scoring in a game this season.

Smith’s 15 rebounds are tied for the second most he has pulled down in a game.

Smith has seven double-doubles this season.

OKC finished 29-for-34 from the free throw line.

Postgame Media Availability: March 31, 2023

You Can Quote Me On That

“He just had the motor running, which he always does. He was pointing out loose balls, he was getting rebounds, he was pushing it, he was many times the facilitator on offense. His attitude was one of the big reasons we were able to win.” – Carlisle on McConnell

“With Jalen, it's his character and it's his professionalism. It’s the way that … when things got tough and he wasn't starting anymore, instead of dropping his head and complaining and having poor body language, he kept his head high. He kept competing, he kept supporting guys – all the guys on the team, particularly the guys that were taking that position. He kept himself ready. And so when opportunities came, he was ready, and he has lifted his game to another level.” – Carlisle on Smith

“I try not to be a rah, rah guy. I just kind of try to lead by example. The thing that I just try to do is, no matter who's out there, who's playing, we have to give the same energy every single night. That's kind of how I’ve played my entire career – that next-man-up mentality. … There's young guys in this league that don't see the floor until their third or fourth year. So these minutes are very valuable and they're taking total advantage of it. ” – McConnell on mentoring the younger players

“T.J. plays at 110 percent. Everyone knows that.” – Smith on McConnell

“(Nembhard)  hit the ground running for us and I've tried to sing his praises all year about how good he is. He hasn't played like a rookie at all. His ability to defend the best player on the other team, and then run a unit when asked, be a shooting guard, and just kind of be our Swiss Army Knife. He's done it the entire year at an incredibly high level and players like him are very rare. So we're very lucky to have him.” – McConnell on Nembhard

“We see the type of competitor he is and it builds that fire in everybody else,” Smith on McConnell

“Pretty much just knowing my spots. Obviously, early on in the season, I started out at the four and was still learning the defensive scheme – being in the right position when the ball swings and things like that. And I feel as though that's just something I've been improving on.” – Smith on his growth on the defensive end this season

"He’s always been savvy. I don’t think nobody gives him enough credit (for) how savvy (he is) and the way he plays the game the right way…T.J. can get in the paint every single time. And he does that and he finds guys. He plays basketball his way and it’s efficient and it’s effective for our team. And he guards on the defensive end, too. He makes hustle plays, too. He’s the one that we feed our energy off…we need guys like T.J." -- Hield on McConnell

"Of course, it means a lot to be back. Just to be out there and see the fans and hear the ball bounce and be a part of the team, not being home being in prison…It was fun. Like I said, I never take this game for granted. When it takes you away from it, it means a lot just to be back and celebrating with the guys. Especially in a good win and watching the young guys grow out there." -- Hield on coming back after missing two games due to illness

Stat of the Night

Oklahoma City’s four made 3-pointers are the fewest the Pacers have given up in a game against an opponent this season.

  • The Pacers haven't lost a season series against the Thunder since the 2017-2018 season. This season they went 1-1.
  • Gabe York, who played in two games for the Blue & Gold in April 2022 and signed a two-way contract with the Pacers on Thursday, did not play on Friday.
Up Next

The Pacers head to Cleveland to take on Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers on Sunday, April 2 at 8:00 PM ET.


The Pacers return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse to host Jalen Brunson and the New York Knicks on Wednesday, April 5 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets >>