In the first half, the Thunder let its offense affect its defense. In the third quarter, it flipped that script, with stifling defense dictating an offensive explosion.
Just after halftime, Russell Westbrook won a jump ball against Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, and Jerami Grant dove on the floor for the ball and called a smart timeout to retain possession. The hustle play provided a bit of a spark, and the Thunder used it to light a bonfire. The defense locked in and was in the face of Pacers shooters possession after possession, forcing Indiana into 14 straight missed shots. The Thunder turned those misses into either fast break or secondary break opportunities to attack downhill and then kick out for three, and the result was a 24-0 run, the longest unanswered burst in the NBA this season.
"That was us at our best," said forward Paul George.
Hands flew into shooting pockets to force misses on jumpers and long arms extended up to disrupt shot attempts in the lane. On offense the Thunder rained in 5 three-pointers, turned the ball over just twice and racked up 7 assists on 12 made baskets in the period. George led the Thunder with 12 of his 31 total points in the quarter, and Westbrook dished out four of his 12 assists in the period. The beneficiaries, though, were Grant and Steven Adams, who combined for 14 of their 45 combined points in the game during the third.
"At times teams game plan us to try to keep me out of the paint. Load the paint and bring our guys. Just got to read and react and make decisions," said Westbrook. "When I drive there are four or five people there, so then I kick it out, creates close out for Jerami, for those guys, for Ferg, P. Opens our offense up a lot more, which is good.”
"You know how (Westbrook) does, just played the game," George said. "He always sets guys up. He always plays that style but Russ just plays the game."
What had been a 10-point deficit at 58-48 just after the break turned into a 14-point Thunder lead at 72-58 after 8 minutes of play in the third quarter. During the period, the Thunder forced Indiana into 28 percent shooting including a 1-for-8 mark from the three-point line. The Thunder outscored Indiana 31-15 in the third quarter, holding Indiana to just 7-for-25 (28 percent) shooting, including a 1-for-8 mark from the three-point line after Indiana made 7-of-13 in the first half.
The opening two quarters were a bit of a mixed bag for the Thunder, particularly offensively, aside from getting Adams heavily involved early. The burly center scored 10 first quarter points on rolls to the rim and a few post up hook shots, and eventually that pressure put onto the center of the floor made waves all around the floor. Adams continued to get opportunities and he finished them, scoring 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting while grabbing 12 rebounds, 7 on the offensive end.
Adams also dished out 3 assists, while his fellow frontcourt mate Grant added 4 assists of his own, to go with 19 points on 5-of-8 three-point shooting, 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Grant was the Thunder’s Swiss Army Knife again, but at an amplified level, blocking shots on back-to-back possessions immediately after that dive on the floor for the loose ball to instigate the 24-0 run.
"On the defensive end I knew that we had to pick it up," Grant said. "I definitely try to do that to give us a little spark.”
"I've been preaching (Grant) is the X factor. I've been preaching he’s one of the most versatile guys. He made a big jump and I think its more so his confidence in the game," George gushed. "It definitely makes the game easier offensively and defensively when he’s locked in, spread the floor and just finish around the rim."
Indiana closed the third on an 11-4 spurt to get back into the game and continued to put pressure on the Thunder with some blistering three-point shooting by Bojan Bogdanovic, who hit 6-of-9 three-point attempts for the game. In order to prevent this from becoming a one-possession game down the stretch, the Thunder’s offense had to continue producing at a high level.
"We got the ball in good spots. We got it where we wanted. We set up one another. We screened for one another. We just had a good pace," George explained. "We were running with some thrust and it was hard to guard us. Its just a tough match up when we're running with some speed."
George attacked right, got fouled and lofted a high-arcing shot over the backboard and in for an old-school three-point play to psuh the Thunder’s lead back out to 10. Westbrook attacked middle to find Adams for a ferocious rolling lob dunk. As a final stiff-arm to the Pacers, Grant scored 5 straight points on a daring, contact-filled driving layup that banked in square off the glass, then a corner three-pointer from Westbrook with 1:13 to go to respond to a Bogdanovic three.
The Thunder had a final flourish, as Westbrook posted up on the left wing and buried a fadeaway jumper to make it 105-98 with 36 seconds to go. Capping a 17-point, 11-rebound, 12-assist triple-double, Westbrook’s 29th of the season and 133rd of his career, Westbrook rocked this baby to bed.