Notebook: Pacers 102, Thunder 97
April 13, 2014HOOSIER SPORTS 365
NBA PRESS RELEASE
THE FACT:Indiana's magic number for clinching the No. 1 in the Eastern Conference is one. A loss by Miami in either of its final two games, Monday in Washington and Wednesday against Philadelphia, or a Pacers victory in their finale Wednesday in Orlando, would secure the top spot.
THE LEAD: The way Indiana has been slumping of late, the notion this game might've been an NBA Finals preview seemed laughable heading in. But after the Pacers put together one of their better overall performances of the season in beating Oklahoma City 102-97 Sunday before a sellout crowd of 18,165 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it didn't seem quite as far-fetched. Lance Stephenson produced his NBA-leading fifth triple-double of the season (17 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds), while C.J. Watson scored a season-high 20 off the bench as the Pacers (55-26) moved one-half game ahead of Miami (54-26) atop the East. The Thunder (58-22) had a three-game win streak against Indiana snapped despite 38 points from Kevin Durant.
QUOTABLE: "I think we're on the way back to being us again."
THE STAT: With Watson, Ian Mahinmi (11 points) and Luis Scola (10), the Pacers had three reserves score in double-figures for the first time since Feb. 3, and just the second time this season.
TURNING POINT: Indiana led 83-72 early in the fourth quarter but Durant and Russell Westbrook sparked the Thunder on a 17-6 counterpunch to tie it at 89-all with 2:45 remaining. For a Pacers team that had struggled to finish games while losing eight of 11, things looked bleak. But Paul George and Stephenson hit huge 3-pointers in a 9-2 run that pushed the home team into a 98-91 lead with 22.4 seconds left. Though Serge Ibaka and Durant hit 3-pointers in the closing seconds, the Pacers protected their victory at the free throw line.
QUOTABLE II: "I just tried to be an all-around player, get people in the right spots, just being a team player. We had to get back to that and I felt like this was the game to do it."
GOOD MOVE: Sensing the need for more creativity and aggression out front, Vogel increased Stephenson's responsibility for running the offense and the result was another huge game from the third-year guard. He set a Pacers single-season record with his fifth triple-double, and already ranks second in franchise history (behind Detlef Schrempf with six).
BAD MOVE: With the Thunder trailing 87-80 midway through the fourth quarter and a timeout having just been called, Westbrook leaped high to block George Hill's meaningless 3-point shot but fell hard after an awkward landing. For a player that has missed 35 games due to various maladies this season, it was not a wise risk.
HOT: David West shot 9-for-11, Stephenson 7-for-10, Watson 6-for-10,Mahinmi 4-for-4 and Luis Scola 5-for-7 as Indiana shot .528 overall, its highest percentage in nearly a month. ... Durant shot 13-for-27 for the Thunder, and Caron Butler was 6-for-10 off the bench.
NOT: Durant (2-for-11) and Westbrook (3-for-10) combined to go 5-for-21 from the 3-point line as Oklahoma City was 7-for-28. ... Roy Hibbert missed all nine of his attempts for Indiana, while George shot 6-for-17.
QUOTABLE III: "We just have to put it behind us. The last week or two we've been in a lot of playoff-type atmospheres. You can't gauge anything off of one game but you have to look at the whole season and see how we've grown."
NOTABLE: West scored 21 and George 20 with 12 rebounds as Indiana improved to 4-1 when three players score at least 20. ... Westbrook finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Butler scored 13 while Ibaka had 11 for Oklahoma City. ... Indiana held a 46-32 advantage on the boards and had 23 assists to offset 23 turnovers that led to 21 Thunder points. ... Ibaka picked up a technical foul in the third quarter for zealously protesting a foul call. ... Scola has scored in double figures in four straight games. ... Indiana finished 35-6 at home, one win short of the franchise record set in 1999-2000.
UP NEXT: For the Pacers, Wednesday at Orlando. For the Thunder, Monday at New Orleans, Wednesday vs. Detroit.