The Thunder hung through a game of runs on Wednesday against a short-handed Pacers squad. Back-to-back career-high-tying games for Darius Bazley and an historic 76 points in the paint kept the Thunder in this one until the final seconds.
The Thunder always goes through situational scenarios during practice and film in preparation for any potential situation where the game may be on the line with no timeout to spare. When that hypothetical moment turned real in Wednesday night’s game, Darius Bazley’s heart began to race in excitement.
“Coach is always showing us these different scenarios,” said Bazley. “For us go over the situational stuff and then it actually happened, I was like ‘oh snap.’ I've never really been like in a game like that where that actually has happened. So, when it did happen, my heart was just beating fast.”
After a taxing game of runs between the Thunder and the Pacers, OKC once again battled its way back from a double-digit deficit to put itself in a position to win the game with only seconds left on the clock and a chance to execute one of those very late-game scenarios. It’s the sort of valuable teaching moment that can’t be replicated through film or on a practice floor – the only experience is game action.
The Thunder faced a Pacers squad battling through injuries to its lineup that completely depleted its frontline. With a smaller lineup, the Pacers opened up the game on Wednesday firing from behind the arc. Of the 34 points that Indiana put up in the first quarter, 24 came from the 3-point line. Despite the eight made 3-pointers from the Pacers in the first frame, the Thunder’s offense kept pace but in a very contrasting way – 22 of the Thunder’s 28 points came from the paint.
“Our guys are doing a really good job of driving in straight lines,” said Daigneault. “Obviously Baze has led that charge lately. They’re doing a great job. They’re hitting the paint, they’re sharing the ball, they’re spacing the floor. That’s how we want to play.”
Bazley led the offensive attack for the second-straight night with a career-high-tying, back-to-back game of 26 points. Similar to Monday’s performance, Bazley forged his way through the lane with multiple determined, effortful drives at the basket that either earned him a bucket or trips to the free throw line.
“He’s now strung together four or five games where he’s really done that. Clearly, he’s made a jump there and he’s playing with that kind of mindset,” said Daigneault. “He’s getting to his spots and getting really, really good plays in there – getting to the line. He’s doing some really, really good things. He’s progressing.”
Despite Bazley’s 13 points in the first half, the Thunder trailed by double-digits throughout the second frame. Indiana continued its attack from deep, but it was 20 second-chance points that gave the Pacers a 10-point edge going into the locker room.
After a slow start to the third frame, the Thunder erupted on an 11-0 run that brought the game to one point. Thunder big man Moses Brown fanned the flames of the scoring outburst with multiple high-energy plays at the rim to secure second-chance buckets and give his team some much-needed momentum.
“We just wanted to make sure that we took advantage of everything we could on the glass and didn’t leave anything out there competitively,” said Brown who finished with 12 points. “We want to go out there and compete with maximum effort and solve problems with five guys.”
Despite bringing the game to one-point, the Pacers’ duo of Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert played equal roles in keeping Indiana’s offense ahead of the Thunder’s throughout the night. In the third quarter, Brogdon logged 11 points while LeVert logged 12 in the fourth. OKC, however, wouldn’t let this one get away that easy.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Thunder trailed by seven points. Throughout the frame, OKC’s deficit would undulate anywhere between a nine and a three-point margin – until the final minute of the contest.
Svi Mykhailiuk grabbed an offensive rebound under the basket and finished a layup with one minute remaining in the game to bring the Pacers lead down to seven points. On the other end of the floor, LeVert missed a midrange jumper that landed in the hands of Bazley who erupted on the break.
The second year forward put his head down and barreled the left side of the floor and knocked down a layup to bring the game to just five points. Without a timeout from either team, the Pacers were met with an aggressive Thunder full-court press. Brogdon was cut off by Williams on the sideline, forced to pick up his dribble and fire out a prayer pass to his teammates. Ty Jerome stood in the path of the ball, intercepted the pass and whipped it out to Théo Maledon who was stationed at the top of the key.
The 19-year-old rookie ripped off the 3-pointer without hesitation and as the ball fell through the rim, Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren called a timeout to settle his team who now held onto a precarious two-point lead with just 24.5 seconds on the clock.
“We wanted to press. We did what we were supposed to do,” said Mykhailiuk. “We did what coach asked us to do. It worked out, we got a steal and made a 3. I feel like it was a great situation, a great play.”
Out of the timeout, OKC was forced to foul Brogdon who knocked down both free throws to send the game back up to two possessions with just 17.2 seconds left. After a missed shot by the Thunder on the other end of the floor, Brogdon would head back to the line with 6.1 seconds left and sink two more free throws to seal the deal.
“It's an execution game at that point,” said Daigneault. “We played with a little bit of a deficit tonight down the stretch. I'm happy with how we hung in there, got it back down to two and gave ourselves a chance.”
Play of the Game
Immediately following his 26-point performance on Monday against the Wizards, Bazley maintained the same level of aggression and force toward the rim on Wednesday night. Fueled by a size advantage and the momentum of a career night, Bazley’s performance began early against the Pacers.
In the opening minutes, the 6-foot-8 guard caught the ball on the right wing, patiently utilized a shot fake to clear his defender from his path and after two short dribbles, vaulted into the open space at the rim for a two-handed slam.
Stat of the Night76
he Thunder capitalized on its size advantage inside and outscored the Pacers 76-52 in points in the paint. The 76 points ties for the most points in the paint in OKC history.
While Coach Daigneault’s crew certainly looked to take advantage of the size discrepancy, the attacks to the rim were more of a result of the Thunder sticking to its offensive identity that values paint touches on drives, letting the play develop and finding the open player.
“Over this stretch, we’ve done some things that have hurt us and some things we have to clean up but one of the things we’ve really done for probably a 10 or 15 game stretch now is we’ve hit the paint with the ball,” said Daigneault. “We’ve opened the floor up, guys are driving and kicking and we’re getting 100 paint touches a night, pretty much. A lot of the points in the paint tonight were a byproduct of that.”
Quotes of the Night
"We got it really close. We got it to a one-possession game. The main thing was just competing, staying together, playing hard on defense and making the right decision on offense.”–Svi Mykhailiuk “It's hard to win these games and so we just need to be better while maintaining the competitive spirit and the togetherness that we're playing with, because we are doing those things. That's why we're in these games. It's just going to take a little bit more execution to get over the hump.”
The Thunder will return to the familiar confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday for a rematch against the Wizards at 7 p.m. CT who the team faced in Washington on Monday. From there, the squad will set back out on the road for a three-game stint that begins with a back-to-back in the Northeast against Philadelphia and Boston.