Pace Slows, Fouls and Turnovers Pile Up as Second Chance Beats Thunder - OKC 106, IND 108

INDIANAPOLIS -- The pressure was on the accelerator for the first 30 minutes. Defensive rotations were swarming, the offense played with crisp movement and dead-eye three-point shooting. Mid-way through the third quarter, however, the Thunder’s speed dwindled. As the pace let up, the Indiana Pacers found their footing. 

To pin the Thunder’s 108-106 last-second loss purely on Wes Matthews’ tip in of a Bojan Bogdanovic missed jumper with 1.8 seconds to go would pay short shrift to the 19-point comeback the Pacers made in the second half. Indiana used post ups by Domas Sabonis, a pair of three-pointers by Matthews out top and a match to the free throw line, including 11 of its 32 attempts in the third quarter alone, to steadily climb back into a game that seemed like it was going to be all Thunder all the way, even in the third game in four nights and the fourth game in six nights in the fourth different time zone for Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club.

The Thunder was well on its way to a victory in the first half, when some more stifling defense carried over from wins over Utah and Brooklyn in a first quarter where the Pacers scored just 22 points. Forcing Indiana into an 0-for-5 shooting start, the Thunder also used a 12-1 early run to take charge.

To start the second quarter, the offense elevated to another level as Paul George scores the Thunder’s first 10 points of the period, highlighted by a pair of three-pointers. George was cooking, getting anything he wanted on the perimeter and used that hot shooting to open up driving lanes to the paint, where he scored at the rim and kicked out to shooters on the wing, where the Thunder hit 14 three-pointers.

“In that first half we were getting stops and making them score and shoot over our defense and then we were getting out in transition and making things happen,” Donovan explained.  

After a 16-8 burst to open the second quarter, the Thunder led by 15, but Indiana immediately responded out of a timeout with six quick points to stall out the momentum. The lead was 63-50 at halftime, a more than impressive lead on the road against an Eastern Conference playoff team, but Donovan and company felt they left some meat on the bone.

“We played with the game a little bit. We didn’t stick to just putting the game away. We allowed them to get some confidence,” said George, who scored 36 points and set a personal career-high for made three-pointers in a season with 6-for-11 shooting from behind the arc tonight. “The fact of the matter is we put ourselves in position to give them an opportunity to win the game and they won the game.”

“They were within striking distance,” Donovan added.

Out of halftime, the Thunder re-gained its grip on the game, holding the Pacers scoreless for the first two-and-a-half minutes, running the lead up to 19 points behind a Russell Westbrook three-pointer and a ridiculous and-one alley-oop reverse layup for George. Just as the Thunder’s night was reaching its apex, the gas started running out of the tank.

“We slowed the game down a little bit and then we got a little stagnant. That was the game,” said George. “We gave them energy and they capitalized on it.”

Over the final half of the third quarter, the Thunder continually fouled Sabonis on the block and Bogdanovic on the wing, leading to 11third quarter free throw attempts, part of 32 total foul shots on the night for the Pacers. Combined with 7 third quarter turnovers, the Thunder started coughing up that big lead as Indiana raced to a 12-3 spurt. As the quarter break approached, Indiana’s Corey Joseph banked in a shot from behind half court to cut the Thunder’s lead to 88-81 heading into the fourth.

“We had a chance to really extend our lead. The turnovers in the third quarter and the fouling in the third quarter hurt us,” said Donovan. “We just kept leaving our feet and trying to jump and block shots instead of just playing position and make those guys have to finish plays over us instead of worrying about blocking it.”

Indiana’s run continued on, cutting the Thunder’s lead to just 5 while the defense prevented any Oklahoma City points for the first 3:15 of the final frame. Finally, Abdel Nader broke through and scored four straight points on a pair of cuts to the rim, two at the free throw line and two more on a dunk. In the second half the Thunder needed a pressure release valve from the Indiana defense and got it from Nader, who helped push the lead back out to 11 at 96-85 on a Dennis Schröder jump shot from Westbrook, capping the latter’s 27th triple-double of the season and 131st of his career as he racked up a 19-point, 14-rebound, 11-assist night.  

From there on out, it was almost all Indiana, with a brief spurt of George magic sprinkled in. The Pacers demolished that 11-point Thunder lead with a 19-5 run fueled by three-pointers from Matthews and Bogdanovic and free throws from Sabonis. With the Thunder trailing 104-101, George buried a deep three-pointer off the dribble with 2:00 to go, then made a pair of free throws to give the Thunder one last lead.

Sabonis tied the game on a layup at the rim on a blown coverage, then after a pair of George turnovers with under a minute left, including one just seconds after making a clutch steal himself, Matthews got the decisive tip-in. A Westbrook three-pointer at the buzzer missed short and the Thunder returned back to Oklahoma City for the start of a three-game home stand on Saturday.

“We defended and played together for the most part of the game. We didn’t execute like we needed to down the stretch,” Westbrook said.

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