If you’re in to that greater good kind of thing, then you shouldn’t be all that upset with today’s result against the Pacers. The Thunder could’ve played better — just 7-0f-28 from 3 — and lost on the road to a solid team, which in their world, doesn’t carry positives because results outweigh everything else.
But, with the generally accepted opinion being the Pacers would prove to be a more favorable matchup in the Finals for the Thunder, this loss aids Indiana in attaining the East’s No. 1 seed, therefore, probably having a better chance to beat the Heat in a potential Eastern Conference Finals. So if we can all overlook the frustration of losing in a 48-minute vacuum, this might be a good thing!
Because despite the loss, the Thunder can look at the outcome today and see a number of different ways they let the game get away. First, terrible perimeter shooting — again, just 7-of-28 from 3, which included 5-of-21 from Durant and Westbrook — a couple late defensive lapses — what happened on that Paul George 3? — and a lack of balance outside of Westbrook and Durant — Serge Ibaka just 11 on 4-11. The Pacers were obviously tuned up for this one, with a lot to play for and while yes, the Thunder had a chance to lock away the No. 2 seed and take the final two games easy, the loss really doesn’t offset that course too awful much (OKC has the Pelicans and Pistons left).
There was a chance to salvage a miracle after Durant hit an absurd off balance 3, which would’ve been pretty satisfying after the way Stephenson pranced and strutted around the court, but the game was really lost two minutes before it. Westbrook hit a 3 to tie it at 89-89 with 2:46 left, then Durant answered that open George 3 to get it back to one with 1:46 left. David West was then left inexplicably open for a midrange jumper, and Westbrook fired an ill-advised 3 after a poor possessions that clanged long. The Thunder got a stop, and down three with 50 seconds left, Durant went for the tie, but West made a terrific play to block him from behind. Just a few bad shots, and too many open looks in critical spots for the Pacers.
The intention from the Thunder and Scott Brooks was clearly to win (if not, Westbrook would’ve sat this one), and the Pacers outplayed OKC in a number of ways. But if you’re up in arms about this one, then you live far too much in the moment. Remember: The Thunder just beat the Spurs and Clippers last week, kind of showing their postseason potential. They wanted this one, no question, but the biggest thing to really read into it is what it might tell us for later.
Not to get ahead of myself, but to get completely ahead of myself, if these teams were to find each other in the Finals, a big question: Does OKC’s smallball work? And is it worth it? The Pacers have an organizational philosophy to remain big basically no matter the circumstance, never letting an opponent dictate those matchups. They crushed the Thunder on the glass 46-32 and OKC never found a way to exploit the matchup differences. Roy Hibbert was entirely neutralized by Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams (zero points on 0-9 shooting in 27 minutes) but David West was able to catch Ibaka napping a number of times, slipping out to midrange to burn OKC for 21 on 9-11 shooting.
When the Thunder went small, it left Durant on West or Ian Mahinmi, but on the other end, the Pacers just hid their leftover big on Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha or Caron Butler. Durant still had George or Lance Stephenson on him, and there wasn’t any real advantage to be had. So if these teams find each other again, it might be wise to just stick with the two bigs most of the way and play the Pacers straight up.
But rounding back to what we just saw: If there is any concern, it’s that often in heated, intense, big games, the Thunder can easily get away from their principles and start falling too much into a chuck’em game. Durant and Westbrook took 60 percent of the Thunder’s shots today (50 of 84) and they lost basically all their offensive rhythm and balance. Obviously Indiana’s top ranked defense had a whole lot to do with that, goading the Thunder to drift further and further away from their game.
Assuming the Thunder don’t collapse entirely in the next two games, I don’t think they’ll mind this loss too awful much, though. They could’ve played better, and in the end, may have done themselves a favor for the future.
- One thing the loss means: The Thunder can’t improve their winning percentage for a seventh consecutive season. The best they can do is match last season’s win total. That was a pretty cool streak they had going.
- WHY don’t the Thunder run more Westbrook-Durant screen-and-roll? Twice they went to it in the fourth quarter, with Durant getting an easy 12-footer off a roll, and another where he got an open baseline look when they ran it on the side with a little slip action. More of that. More and more and more of that.
- Another example of how the Thunder slipped out of their game: Durant had just one assist, the fewest he’s had in a game since Dec. 4 against the Blazers. It’s only the fifth time this season he’s had less than three in a game.
- Durant’s last five games, just 9-39 from 3. He hit only 2-11 from deep today. Too many 3s.
- Another player, another season-high. This time it was C.J. Watson with 20 off the Pacer bench.
- Another thing on Watson: He’s some kind of flopper. An exaggeration almost cost the Pacers late when he flailed out of bounds.
- Nick Collison went and bled all over everybody again. This time he caught an elbow right under his eye, and had to get eight stitches because of it. So to recap, he’s had four staples and eight stitches in the last week. Next up: Gorilla glue on his chin, then nails to stop a cut on forehead.
- Reggie Jackson had to leave the game in the second half with a neck injury, and didn’t return. He got precautionary X-rays, but it’ll be interesting to see his availability in the final two games. Particularly tomorrow, because Westbrook is going to sit, meaning Derek Fisher could conceivably be starting at point guard.
- We say this stuff all the time, but KD goes for 38 on 13-27 shooting, and he didn’t play very well. Silly.
- If you can math, that means Durant went 11-16 on 2-pointers today. A lot of his 3s were decent looks, but don’t be giving away those 2s.
- Westbrook went for the Garnett after-the-whistle goaltend on a Paul George shot, but got his hand caught in the net and took a little spill.
- Ibaka went just 4-11 from the field, and struggled to get going in his midrange game. Looked to me like he was rushing his jumpers, not getting his lower body set at times. Ibaka is deadly when he’s in rhythm, catching and shooting without hesitation.
- Ibaka was lucky to be in the game after he went and almost headbutted Scott Foster in the third quarter. He had good reason to be upset, though as replays showed Watson clearly was latched on to his arms which drew a foul on Ibaka.
- Steven Adams doesn’t just take elbows to the face, he invites them.
- If today was the only NBA game you’d ever seen in your life and you didn’t know anything coming in, you’d think Kendrick Perkins was a lot better basketball player than Roy Hibbert. Perk outplayed the Pacer big man in almost every way.
- Caron Butler showed a little of what he can do again, with a great start to the fourth knocking down three midrange jumpers, then hitting an open 3 set up by Durant. Had had nine of his 13 in the fourth, hitting 6-10 from the floor.
- Westbrook had a difficult, very Westbrookian game. Hit just 7-23 from the floor and turned it over four times, but had nine rebounds and seven assists, and made a couple of hugely important plays late in the game.
- The Thunder shouldn’t lose many games where they only turn it over nine times and their opponent does 23 times.
- Last four games now, the Thunder have turned it over only a total of 34 times.
Next up: At the Pelicans on Monday