By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com
Highlights: OKC at IND
The Big Picture
Box Score: OKC at IND
For one quick game on the road in Indianapolis, there was a lot to unpack for the Thunder. There were wild swings in the action, like a 29-11 Indiana Pacers run in the second half followed up with a 9-0 OKC response. There were 17 lead changes and 11 ties, and some late game moments that sent shockwaves of nervousness throughout Gainbridge Field House throughout the night. Ultimately, the Thunder came up one or two possessions short in a 121-117 loss on the road.
While a missed shot on the baseline and a turnover inside the final minute while the Pacers made their free throws late might be more obvious differences in the final outcome, but the Thunder felt like offensive rebounds and open shots allowed in the first half were just as, if not more impactful. Indiana racked up 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, while the Thunder went 0-for-13 from behind the arc yet OKC was within four points at 65-61 after two quarters.
In the third quarter, the Thunder switched up its tactics in the starting unit, going small and switching everything defensively to try and eliminate Indiana’s drive and kick action that was getting OKC into rotation. In the second unit, the Thunder went bigger and went body to body on the Pacers’ front court, and the result was a 10-point Thunder lead. In the fourth quarter, however, the highway to the paint the Thunder enjoyed through three quarters got clogged up, as OKC scored just 8 of its 72 points in the paint in the final frame. Without those makes around the rim, the Thunder came up just short.
At the outset of this one, Josh Giddey made a steal on the wing and initiated a 3-on-1 fast break, finding Jalen Williams for a layup in the broken floor situation. On the very next possession, it was Williams who tracked back into the lane to snag a second-straight steal for OKC. Repaying the favor from the last play, Williams then zipped the ball ahead to Giddey who got out on the run for a righty layup from the left side of the rim. That bucket drew an immediate timeout from Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, and it came with 11:00 still remaining in the first quarter. In the first meeting the Thunder forced Indiana into 24 turnovers and scored 36 points off of them, so that quick 4-0 start for the Thunder with both buckets off turnovers was a focal point for the Pacers. Tonight, the Thunder scored 27 points off of 16 Indiana turnovers.
In his return to action after missing the last two games with an ankle sprain, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander lived at the rim and at the free throw line, racking up 14 points in nine minutes in the first quarter alone. With downhill finishes on layups, pump fakes that drew fouls and crafty attacks, Shai spearheaded a Thunder effort that racked up 24 points in the paint on 12-for-12 shooting in the first quarter alone. For the game the Thunder had 72 points in the paint, while Gilgeous-Alexander racked up 39 total points, including 22 in the paint.
Coming off a 19-point game where he nailed three 3-pointers, the Thunder’s do-it-all utility man Aaron Wiggins jumped in off the bench on Friday and this time got the job done at the rim. First he attacked down the right side of the floor, getting to the rim and finishing an and-one layup. One possession later, it was Wiggins crashing in from the weak side after a missed Thunder 3-pointer, finding the open spot on the offensive glass for a two-handed putback slam. For the game, Wiggins scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting with three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.
On the season, Thunder guard Josh Giddey ranks in the top 10 in total layups made and total points in the paint, a remarkable achievement for a 20-year-old in just his second NBA season. By getting off the ball early in possessions and then attacking later off the catch or just immediately pressing downhill on an advantage, Giddey has found himself near the block all year and did so again on Friday. Scoring nine of his 21 total points in the second quarter alone, Giddey kept the scoreboard moving with his physicality and relentlessness around the rim, finishing multiple putbacks to help the Thunder score 61 points in a half where the team didn’t hit a single 3-pointer.
On one of the initial possessions of the third quarter, the Thunder got that elusive first made 3-pointer as Josh Giddey lined up a catch-and-shoot 3 on the right wing and buried it. That gave the Thunder its first lead since the opening minutes of the second quarter. On the very next possession, Thunder guard Lindy Waters III rushed out to the perimeter, chopped his steps in textbook fashion and blocked a three-point attempt by Buddy Hield, who came into the game second in the NBA in three-pointers made this season. The Thunder went small with Waters starting the second half in place of center Jaylin Williams. The speed on the floor helped OKC burst out to a 16-7 run to take control on the scoreboard and build a 10-point lead.
Lu Dort was aggressive on the offensive glass throughout this game, snagging three of his 10 total boards on that end of the floor. In the closing minutes of the third quarter, Dort was relentless, snapping up second chances and taking on physical contact in his effort to gain extra possessions for his team. Dort got fouled on multiple occasions after those rebounds to help the Thunder keep pace with a high scoring Indiana squad, but it was the toughness to rack up his fifth career double-double while the Thunder was playing a small lineup for most of the night that proved once again Lu’s chops as one of the best hustle players in the league.
A pair of gritty plays on defense kept the Thunder attached to the Pacers, as early in the fourth quarter OKC’s five-man defense stayed glued to their assignments and forced a five-second call on Indiana’s inbounds play. Those calls are rare at the NBA level, but it showed the fight the Thunder was trying to play with all night. Later in the quarter, it was Dort who stripped Jordan Nwora, and as the ball soared high into the air Lu followed it up, skying to get the loose possession.
For the youngest team in the NBA, execution on both ends down the stretch of games is a learning experience and OKC has had a bunch of them this year - 42 to be exact after Friday night. On one clutch time possession, the Thunder executed perfectly as Giddey drove left and found Isaiah Joe as he popped out to the top of the key. Keeping his head up, Joe immediately fired a diagonal pass down to the right block to Jalen Williams, who went up for a hanging layup to make it just a two point game with 2:30 to go. Williams finished the game with 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals for his fourth game of 10-5-5 in March, and seventh total on the season.
Quotes of the Night
“Our offense, we had to take care of business on that, but to come out here and assure a win and earn a win it would have had to be defensively. Transition, getting better contests on their 3s, and we didn't do a great job of that.” —Coach Daigneault
“(We’ll) do what got us in the position in the first place: just focus on getting better, focus on day to day. The beginning of the season, we weren't thinking about anything besides that.” —Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
The Thunder returns home to Oklahoma City for one game against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday evening before hitting the road once again, out to the West Coast for the final trip of the season against Golden State and Utah.
By Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder