The Oklahoma City Thunder (42-27) blew a 19-point third quarter lead on Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, losing to the Indiana Pacers (44-25) by a final score of 106-108. The Thunder were ahead by 11 with six minutes and change left but couldn’t finish the job on the second night of a back-to-back. Paul George led the way for the Thunder, scoring 36 points in his return to Indiana while Russell Westbrook recorded his 27th triple-double of the year. Former Thunder Domantas Sabonis was the high man for the Pacers with 26 points off the bench.
The Thunder showed little to no signs of a back-to-back hangover to start, instead bringing superb effort on the defensive end of the floor. Unlike last night’s first half, the Thunder rotated without breakdown and closed up the paint. Westbrook’s rock-the-baby over former UCLA teammate Darren Collison capped a 14-3 Thunder run in the closing minutes of the quarter. After missing last night’s game due to neck soreness, Markieff Morris checked in and immediately poured on five straight points on consecutive possessions. OKC led 29-22 after one.
It didn’t take long for Paul George to reintroduce himself to the folks of Indiana in this one. The six-time All-Star exploded with 15 points in the second — going 5-of-7 from the floor, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in the quarter. PG started the quarter by hitting a pair of step-back threes directly in the eyeball Wes Matthews. The next trip down for the Thunder, the Pacers (justifiably so) expected the heat-check triple from George, who instead pump-faked and threw down the hammer right-handed dunk — scoring eight points on three straight Oklahoma City possessions. It was one of the better sequences we’ve seen out of George so far this season, and that’s saying something when you consider the moments he’s provided us so far. The stout Thunder defense picked up where it left off following the first and OKC dominated the glass with a 28-17 advantage. The Thunder closed the first half with consecutive dunks by Steven Adams, taking a 63-50 lead into the locker room.
The pedal was to the medal for Thunder to start the third quarter after Westbrook’s back-door alley-oop to George saw their lead balloon to 19 at the 7:18 mark. From that point on, the Thunder showed signs of fatigue with lazy fouling, allowing Indiana to crawl back into the game with free throws. The Thunder certainly had a chance to bury the Pacers in the quarter, but Corey Joseph’s full-court heave at the buzzer brought Indiana to within seven heading into the fourth.
The start of the fourth quarter was tough sledding for both teams — the Thunder’s first bucket didn’t come until four minutes had passed when Abdel Nader’s dunk put the Thunder up nine, OKC was 0-of-7 start the quarter. The game appeared to be in control when Dennis Schroder’s baseline jumper put the Thunder up 11 with 6:27 to go, but things got interesting rather quickly. Nate McMillan called a timeout and Matthews nailed a corner three to bring the game back to within single digits. Following a pair of free throws by Domntas Sabonis, George’s three put the Thunder up by nine with five and a half to go. Matthews’ hot-hand answered with a three of his own, trimming the Pacers’ deficit to six. Sabonis contested a Jerami Grant shot at the rim on the Thunder’s next trip down and Bojan Bogdanovic nailed a wide-open corner three, the Thunder lead was down three.
With 3:37 remaining, Schroder was assessed a flagrant-one after making contact with Sabonis’s face while trying to fight over a screen. Sabonis made both free throws and the Thunder lead was only a point. A missed jumper from Westbrook led to a wide open dunk for Myles Turner after it appeared George might’ve been hit above the neck while getting screened, the Pacers were now up by one with just under three minutes to go. Another missed Westbrook three allowed Bogdanovic to score an easy layup after a defensive breakdown, putting the Pacers up by three. PG momentarily silenced the Indiana crowd by tying the game with a three with less than two minutes remaining. A pair of George free throws gave the Thunder a two-point lead with 1:13 on the clock, but Sabonis was able to tie it back up after a nifty pump fake on the block over Grant.
Things got strange when Matthews’ tough defense on George forced him to lose the ball near mid-court and step out of bounds with 38 seconds remaining. George briefly atoned for the mishap by forcing a steal from Bogdanovic, only to give the ball right back to Collison three seconds later. The Pacers had the ball with the game tied and 23 seconds to go. After a well-defended jumper from Bogdanovic didn’t fall, Matthews’ put-back over Westbrook with 1.8 seconds left put the Pacers up two. The Thunder used their final timeout, giving Westbrook a fairly decent look from three at the top of the key, only to fall just a bit short. Pacers win 108-106.
Remember Me?: PG had the best performance of his career against his former team, scoring 36 points (10-of-23 FG, 6-of-11 3P, 10-of-12 FT) to go with six rebounds, five assists, and two steals. It was a roller-coaster fourth quarter for the Thunder’s MVP with his two turnovers in the final seconds proving to be quite costly. Plenty of positives to take away as George appears to be regaining his rhythm offensively.
Back-To-Back: The Brodie was effective yet again for the Thunder, recording his 27th triple-double of the season less than 24 hours after Wednesday night’s triple-double. However, Westbrook went 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter which included the potential game-winning three. Like PG, there’s plenty of good to take away as Westbrook continues his offensive tear since the All-Star break. In total, Westbrook had 19 points (8-of-18 FG, 1-of-5 3P, 2-of-2 FT), 14 rebounds, 11 assists, four steals, and two blocks.
Kiwi: Adams dominated his matchup tonight against up-and-coming Myles Turner, pitching in 17 points (8-of-14 FG), eight rebounds, and an assist. The Thunder had success with generating easy opportunities for Adams throughout, instead opting for the “your turn, my turn” PG/Westbrook show in crunch time. When the big fella is cooking, let him eat.
How Did We Get Here?: The offense was clicking on all cylinders as the Thunder were up 19 points midway through the third quarter, then the wheels started falling off. Too many careless turnovers (18 total) and a field goal percentage of 35.9 in the second half didn’t help. George and Westbrook combined to go 7-of-20 from the field over the final 24 minutes.