Abrines Tip-in, Paul George Steal Seal Win in Indy – OKC 100, IND 95

INDIANAPOLIS -- For Paul George, his game has always been centered on his defense. That’s what gets him going. That’s he thrives on. So on a night when his shot wasn’t falling and the spotlight was on him in his return to Indiana, it was tenacious defense all game and a perfectly-timed steal that made all the difference.

With the Thunder up by just 3 points with 15.2 seconds to go, George blanketed Thad Young as he tried to catch the inbounds pass, and that harassment led to a loose ball that Young tried to save back in bounds. George anticipated it, got himself in position and corralled the ball with both hands. He was immediately fouled by the Pacers, then knocked down two crucial free throws that helped seal the Thunder’s 100-95 road win.

“Winning plays. We made winning plays all night long, and obviously that was a big one,” point guard Russell Westbrook noted.

“We battled the whole 48 minutes,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “I liked a lot more of the consistency for the full 48… Our guys kept clawing and finding and we found a way to gut it out.”

Rather than a scorer, George was more playmaker on Wednesday night as he faced the Pacers crowd as a visiting player for the first time ever. He racked up 5 assists to go with 12 points on 3-for-14 shooting and 3 steals in 33 minutes of action.

All-Star teammates Carmelo Anthony (12 points on 4-of-14 shooting) and Russell Westbrook (10 points on 3-for-17 shooting) didn’t fare much better on shot attempts. But Westbrook was a major catalyst for the offensive rhythm of the team, which had 26 assists, 5 players in double figures and hit 13-of-29 (44.8 percent) on three-pointers. He racked up 17 rebounds and his grab-and-go bursts helped get the Thunder out for 20 fast break points, where he set up teammates with 12 assists to complete a triple-double.

“I was just picking, finding ways to get guys shots,” Westbrook said.

Steven Adams was the main vehicle for Thunder offense early in the game, scoring all 23 of his points in the first three quarters of play, on 11-for-16 shooting to go with 13 rebounds, including 9 on the offensive end. Adams rolled down the lane to catch lobs, finished with short flip shots in the lane and more than anything just kept possessions alive for the Thunder to help make up for 40.9 percent shooting overall. In fact, Adams helped the Thunder towards 22 second chance points, where it shot 8-for-15 after 17 offensive rebounds.

“It just came my way. I just did my normal set ups how I normally do, and they fell my way,” Adams demurred.

“(Adams) knows how he needs to play,” Westbrook said succinctly.

It was a mostly back-and-forth affair all night. The Pacers led by 5 to end the first quarter, but its margin never crept higher than that even though there were 12 lead changes through the night. The Thunder used a 12-2 burst by the starters in the second quarter to re-take the lead. That stretched was fueled by a three-point play by Westbrook, then back to back threes by Alex Abrines (14 points as a starter in place of injured guard Andre Roberson) and George.

The Thunder’s second unit of Raymond Felton, Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson held the fort in both the first and second half stints they played tonight, helping to maintain the Thunder’s lead at around 4 points for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter.

“We self-corrected and we kind of got back some momentum in that third quarter which was great, then I thought our second unit played very, very well tonight,” Donovan stated.

When the starters checked back in, the Thunder went on a pivotal 9-2 run to extend the lead out to the largest of the game, 11 points. It needed every one of them because down the stretch the Pacers got going on some Thunder pick-and-roll switches, as Victor Oladipo got downhill for a pair of driving layups. Then came a controversial block call on Josh Huestis with 40 seconds to go. Originally a charge call, as Huestis was clearly outside of the charge circle, the play was reviewed during a timeout and overturned, giving Young two free throws. He made one, setting the Thunder up with a tenuous 96-95 lead.

After some movement, Westbrook hit Alex Abrines, who missed a driving layup. Westbrook was there to try to follow it up, but his putback missed everything. As the final seconds slipped off the shot clock, a hand emerged to the left of the rim. It wasn’t the massive mitt of Adams, but Abrines, who snuck back in to tip the ball into the basket, giving the Thunder a three-point cushion.

“I was in the right spot at the right time,” Abrines said. “It feels really good. We’re doing a great job of sticking together.”

“I was impressed,” Huestis grinned, surprised. “Obviously he can shoot the three-ball, but when he can get down there and show other aspects of the game, it’s good for us.”

From there, it was all about getting a defensive stop, and George was the man to do it. He had helped keep Oladipo to just 9-for-26 shooting prior to slamming the door on the final steal. It was time to finish the job.

“Vic (Oladipo) is their guy here right? Don’t let him get the ball. Simple. Ball game,” George said.

Thunder highlights:

By the Numbers

6 – Free throw attempts for the Pacers on the night, thanks to the Thunder fouling just 12 times

29 – Bench points for the Thunder tonight, on 10-for-19 shooting, aided by 6 assists from Raymond Felton

52-42 – The Thunder’s rebounding advantage on the night, which included a 17-11 edge in offensive boards

The Last Word

“We did a good job of staying disciplined to what it was and all we had to do. Pretty much credit to that…. We were physical with all the small things, which allowed for easier outcomes.” – center Steven Adams