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Despite Fourth Quarter Push Thunder Drop Third Straight 103-98

 

OKC gave a great effort tonight in the fourth quarter, but the thing about the NBA is you aren’t going to win many games playing one good quarter. The story of the game ends up being how poorly the team played in the opening three quarters. Durant’s 44 points and Westbrook’s near triple-double are for not as the Thunder fall to the Pacers 103-98.

The Thunder began having success in the forth quarter once is started attacking the rim and getting the free throw line. A lot of its success the first 6 minutes of the fourth quarter was due to Roy Hibbert being on the bench. Hibbert protected the paint nicely tonight finishing with four blocks, but affecting countless others. No one was more a victim of this than Russell Westbrook who missed several easy buckets at the rim. The officiating crew were allowing a ton of contact down low, which frustrated Westbrook on the offensive end.

Westbrook did not have it going on the offensive end (he scored 21 points on 23 shot attempts), but he made up for it in other areas. Westbrook made many hustle plays down the stretch that really kept the Thunder in the ball game. Russell finished with 11 rebounds (3 offensive) and nine assists. It was great to see Russell realize he did not have it going on the offensive end and focus on impacting the game in other areas.

The defense was flat out of the gate allowing Roy Hibbert to get comfortable down on the block. It seemed like every baseline hook shot that Hibbert threw up went in the hoop. Perkins gives up four inches to Hibbert, so that makes that hook shot a tough cover. The Thunder could have lived with the scoring from Hibbert, but his passing from the block really carved up the Thunder defense. OKC defenders were often scrambling to close out on shooters which created many open driving lanes. The Pacers exploited this in the first three quarters.

Ibaka finished with seven blocks in this game in only 20 game minutes. I knew coming in that this would be a touch matchup for Serge because the Pacers have a few “stretch” fours on the roster with which Ibaka has traditional struggled. Plus, when the Thunder went small in the fourth quarter, Hibbert in the lineup forced Brooks to stay with Perkins who is a little stronger.

This is the Thunder’s first three-game losing streak all season and its first since right after the All Star Break last season. Not the best time to fall three straight times. The Spurs, after its win tonight, will have won 10(!) straight and have taken over the best record in the Western Conference. Bummer. I’m sure the Spurs will lose again before the season is over, but it just puts OKC in a hole because not only does San Antonio have a better record, but they also own the tie breaker. OKC must finish the season strong if it wants a chance at home court throughout the playoffs. It is still possible, but it is looking less likely.

Post Game Grades

Shoot Efficiently: B

Believe it or not, the Thunder actually shot a better percentage than Indiana – 44% Thunder 41% Pacers. However, the Pacers out-rebounded the Thunder by ten and had eight more shot opportunities. Almost half of the Thunder’s point came in the paint, which is a good thing except that OKC missed way too many of the easy baskets. Westbrook, Durant, Perkins and Harden all missed too many gimmies down low. If those players would have hit those easy shots, the shooting percentage would have been closer to 60% for the game.

Block Out: D

The Pacers out-rebounded the Thunder 50-40 in the game and also grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. This has been a problem for OKC the whole season, but there was a stretch of games where it seemed like they had mitigated it. However, it has popped up again recently – tonight and versus Memphis. It will be important moving towards the playoffs for the Thunder to refocus on this area. Also Paul George had a career-high 16 rebounds tonight – not good.

Even Shots: C-

The Pacers had eight more shot attempts tonight. In a game that came down to one possession, those eight extra possession are killer. The Thunder had 17 turnovers, which is about their season average. Turnovers and offensive rebounds have really been a problem again lately. Hopefully the team will get some practice time over the next week to rededicate to those areas.

Thoughts on the Game

  • I am not one to usually complain about the officiating, but it was not good in this game. Although the free throw disparity in the Thunder’s favor helped them get back in the game.
  • Daequan Cook got some early playing time in this one (four minutes). I guess I just don’t understand why Brook went with Fisher/Westbrook/Harden down the stretch. Why not put Cook in with Russell and Harden? Cook is a much better shooter than Fisher. That small ball lineup won a lot of games for us earlier in the season. Cook is just as good defensive player as Fisher and a better rebounder.
  • Westbrook had a terrible shooting night, but as I said, he really did impact the game in other areas. He got a few offensive rebound that were huge.
  • Durant tallied 44 points tonight on 15-24 shooting. He is simply amazing.
  • How about that dunk he had on Hibbert? My favorite part was when he just ran back down the floor like he has done it before – oh wait he has! See Brendan Haywood last year during the playoffs.
  • I wouldn’t have minded seeing Royal Ivey get some minutes in this game. The Thunder desarately needed a stop in the third quarter. Why not come in with a defensive spark?
  • Keep an eye on Denver’s game tonight. As of this writing they are tied with Phoenix in the third quarter. If Denver loses, the Thunder clinch the Northwest Division title.

Next Up: Toronto @ OKC on Sunday 6p.m.

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