West's touchdown pass to Green didn't shock me . It was just...
Pacers Cough One Up
The Pacers should have beat the Thunder last night. But a crucial third quarter meltdown during which they turned the ball over on six straight possessions let the Thunder rebound and — eventually — snatch a victory they did not deserve.
The pinnacle of the Pacers night came when a Roy Hibbert bucket put them up by 14 a little less than four minutes into the second half. Leading up to this, Indy had played well (if not uber-productively) in the first quarter and dominated — convincingly — the second quarter, so it appeared that the team was linearly improving as the contest progressed. After Roy’s bucket, it seemed as if the team was in the process of amassing a lead that, both quantitatively and qualitatively, felt too great for a rudderless Oklahoma City squad to overcome.
Then they took out a six shooter and shot themselves in the foot.
I don’t actually know how many times a team has ever turned the ball over on six straight possessions before — and I’m sure it has happened on many more occasions than the Pacers historic 54-point third quarter a few weeks back — but such a feat seems like it should be a mathematical impossibility for an NBA team to complete.
But sure enough, here is how one third quarter segment of the play-by-play reads:
- Danny Granger traveling
- Roy Hibbert lost ball (Russell Westbrook steals)
- Mike Dunleavy lost ball (Russell Westbrook steals)
- Danny Granger turnover
- Danny Granger bad pass (Kevin Durant steals)
- Danny Granger traveling
Just like that, OKC got six easy points. Add that to Indy’s failure to properly box out twice prior to its spurt of offensive boneheadedness, and the Thunder had themselves a 11-0 run that left them only down by 3. A good team that had been playing pretty poorly had been welcomed back into a game it had previously not been in.
Sometimes that’s all it takes to lose in this league. You equalize the score with one bad stretch and then it’s a toss-up game late that comes down to half-court execution. And when the team you’re trying to beat late in a toss-up game has Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, well … it’s pretty likely that they’re going to do some Durant- and Westbrook-type of of things.
It’s a shame, too, because the reigning scoring champ was having a very non-scoring champ like game prior to Indy’s third quarter stretch of brainfarts. But then he hit a three (his first and only of the game) and got himself to the line before the quarter ended — two little glimmers of confidence-building for the gangly kid with the golden touch that likely set the stage for him doing what he did when the game was on the line 12 minutes later.
Overall, Durant and Jeff Green were a combined 13/42 (31%) from the field (including 2/13 from behind the arc). When a defense forces such miserable production by two guys who took nearly half their team’s shots (42 of the Thunder’s 90 FGAs), it should be a recipe for victory.
But Durant was probably not thinking about his miserable early play when his team trailed by 3 with 47 seconds to play and needed him to score. Kevin made a move and even though the defense wasn’t terrible, he made a running floater from the right side. Plus he got fouled. He of course made the freebie and the game was tied. (UPDATE: Just re-watched this play. The defense by Danny was pretty terrible. My apologies.)
For their part, the Pacers did run a good final set, getting the ball to Hibbert on the block. Unfortunately, three defenders swarmed the big guy and — who else? — Russell Westbrook swatted away what would have otherwise been a formidable post move. Indy retained possession but — who else? — Danny Granger turned the ball over. It was really an unfortunate outcome since Danny had otherwise played about as clutchly as a guy can down the stretch, scoring 7 points in the final 4:17 — 5 of which came in the paint after nice drives or at the line. (He finished the night with 30 points on 11/24 shooting. There were also the 7 turnovers. Overall … Meh.)
We should probably talk about Russell Westbrook some more though, eh?
He was fantastic. Regardless of the third quarter turnovers I have been highlighting, the Thunder obviously have no chance in this one if he doesn’t have such of great night. It was one of the best nights of his life even, as he dropped a career-high 43 points. His forays into the lane were of course impressive, but it was his repeated trips to the free throw line that should have OKC fans excited.
Last season, Westbrook recorded double-digit free-throw attempts ten times. This year, he has already done so eight times. In 16 games. More encouraging still is his new-found ability to be automatic from the stripe. Last night’s 17-for-18 outburst will stand out as an aberration, but he is shooting 90.3% from the line this year — a big improvement over the 78.0% he shot last season.
One last interesting tidbit about this emerging star point guard is how extreme he has been playing in Conseco Fieldhouse. During his trip to Indiana last year, he scored zero points for the only time in his professional career. (h/t The Oklahoman via Cornrows) On this trip, as you now know, he scored a career-high 43 points along with 8 assists, 8 boards, 3 steals and the aforementioned 1 block. I preferred the former.
Getting back to the game and the overtime, it wasn’t so much that the Pacers played all that badly during free basketball. They didn’t play great by any means — although, Darren Collison, who once again sat late in the fourth in lieu of TJ Ford, played very well, twice tying the game with buckets near the rim. But it was just that they found out what often happens when you give a struggling superstar more time to fix the temporary slump he has been in.
Durant opened the extra period with a jumper and would hit two more in the final minute, giving him 6 of the Thunder’s 14 points after regulation and perhaps even the game ball despite Westbrook’s pre-OT brilliance.
That’s really all there is to it.
Durant scored when the game was close and they needed him to score.
But had the Pacers handled their business earlier in the game, it’s quite possible that the game never would have been close enough for it to matter that Durant to re-found his touch.