Thunder drop their third straight, 103-98 to the Pacers

BOX SCORE

For the first time in 404 days, the Thunder have lost three straight games in the regular season.

And for the first time this season, they’re in second place in the Western Conference.

It would be easy to focus on the valiant comeback that had the Thunder within four with 30 seconds left and a chance. It would be easy to talk about KD’s 44 points or Russell Westbrook’s near triple-double.

But that would be ignoring an atrocious 35 minutes of basketball that put Oklahoma City in that position. Unfocused, flat defense. Sloppy, inattentive offense. Missed free throws, turnovers, offensive rebounds — it all went wrong. The 13-3 run to close the third and the fact OKC took Indiana’s 22-point lead to five with 1:08 left was better than them just mailing it in. But it doesn’t make up for the effort over the first three quarters of the game.

It was the kind of game that with around four minutes left in the third, you started looking around for something else to watch. That’s not normally something that happens with the Thunder.

In all honesty, I think we just saw the Heat beat the Thunder twice. So much was put into that game — effort, energy, focus, emotion — and the fact OKC came up short combined with the physicality of it likely carried over to Indiana. I don’t think there’s any explanation other than that as to why the Thunder looked so disinterested early on. Of course the Pacers deserve a lot of credit as they’re a really good team, but the Thunder shouldn’t play like THAT, much less against anyone.

(The Heat got walloped by the Grizzlies tonight too. Coincidence?)

The Thunder pushed hard to give themselves a shot, but never could break the 10-point barrier. OKC got it to 10 six different times in the fourth before finally busting through to cut it to eight with 1:40 left on a Westbrook layup. It just felt like if the Thunder could get under that double-digit barricade, they’d have a chance. Scott Brooks went to an effective smallball lineup probably a little too late, but it sparked a run. Westbrook’s hustle and effort was inspiring and Durant was outstanding in the second half scoring 28 of his 44 after the break. Outside of that, OKC didn’t get much. James Harden scored only 10 points on 1-of-5 shooting, the Thunder bench put up only 18 total points and starters other than KD and Westbrook had 15 combined points. That’s not going to cut it.

Brooks mentioned is postgame that the smallball lineup does struggle with rebounding and that was essentially what doomed it. The Pacers had a +10 edge on the glass and finished with 18 offensive boards. While OKC had mismatches and a wicked transition game working to build a comeback, the little things like getting stops and rebounds were what did them in. But that’s a pick-your-poison thing.

Now the Thunder are in a tough spot. They’re tied with the Spurs (but behind because San Antonio owns the tiebreaker) and have to hope for some Spurs losses and better play from themselves to claim the top seed. There’s lots of time left, but a three-game losing streak at this point of the season isn’t preferred. Still, it’s not that distressing to me, because the Thunder proved a week ago they’re worthy of their contender title. Teams can see the playoffs on the horizon and sometimes, focus becomes an issue. The Mavs lost five straight in March last season. Obviously you hate to see a late season swoon create bad habits and cost things like a top seed, but a three game losing streak isn’t the end of the world.

The Thunder are fine. Why? Because they have the Raptors at home on Sunday. If things go bad there, then I think we might need to have a long sitdown discussion about this.

NOTES:

  • Little things in this game were just backbreaking. For instance, the Thunder had it to 10 with seven minutes left, almost came up with a steal but instead the ball found its way to Leandro Barbosa in the corner for an open 3, which he hit. That kind of stuff can’t happen in a comeback attempt.
  • ┬áDespite the loss, KD was absolutely fantastic. He had 44 on 24 shots, made big plays and big shots. If he had two more minutes, the Thunder were winning this game.
  • Westbrook never quit, even when the Thunder were down 20. He was running wild, trying to rebound every miss, going after every pass — it was contagious. That type of effort is something that can get teammates going and I think it did.
  • OKC lost, but KD’s dunk was pretty sick.
  • Westbrook struggled shooting again (7-of-23), but he turned it over only three times and was an assist away from a triple-double. And again, his effort was outstanding.
  • Not going to lie, for a good part of the game, the officiating was horrific. It leveled out in the fourth quarter as OKC attacked relentlessly and got a bunch of whistles, but there were some very iffy calls, including what would’ve been a big and-1 by Harden that turned out to be a terrible charge call.
  • Harden does not do a good job closing out shooters. A lot of his contests are half-hearted with him just sort of raising a hand on the shot. He doesn’t challenge shooters. He sags off just a bit too much and doesn’t recover. In OKC’s comeback, he was late closing out on Danny Granger and George Hill a couple times, which were costly.
  • Perk is often just a tad bit overeager to throw an outlet pass. I think rule No. 1 of throwing a proper outlet is that there needs to be a teammate ahead of you. Rule No. 2 is that he shouldn’t have three defenders around him.
  • So Derek Fisher played 27 minutes. Brooks was going small, which is why he did had that much time, but here’s my question: Why not Daequan Cook? Maybe he wasn’t completely ready to play 20 minutes, but just four minutes? Especially when Cook is a good rebounder at his position and can obviously hit some 3s? I don’t get that.
  • You know… Fisher was a +12 though. But that’s why game-by-game plus/minus numbers can be deceiving. Fisher just had the benefit of being on the floor during the big comeback and not on it when the Thunder dropped behind by a lot.
  • Tyler Hansbrough. Sigh.
  • Harden’s last five games: 11.2 points per game on 17-43 (39.5 percent) shooting. The Thunder are 2-3 in those games. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
  • I think about 60 percent of getting a charge call is yelling.
  • Tonight’s text question was “What player has played the most games over the last nine seasons?” Oddly specific question, no? Well, wouldn’t you know it, Derek Fisher is third on that list. What a coincidence! I wonder what astute viewer sent in that incredibly super specific coincidental question.
  • Brian Davis Line of the Night: “HA HA HA HA HA HA,” or however you might write Davis’s crazy laugh with 5.5 seconds left.

Next up: Home against the Raptors.

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