By Randy Renner
Defending the 3-point arc has been something Thunder coach Billy Donovan has preached since the first day he stepped onto OKC’s practice floor.
The Thunder defense out there has been off and on but lately had actually been pretty good and for the first 45 and a half minutes last night it was outstanding, holding Indiana to just 5-for-18 (27.7 percent) from 3-point range.
But oh those last 2 and a half minutes. The Thunder lost their focus at the arc, allowing the Pacers to hit four straight 3s, including a couple that were as wide-open as the panhandle high plains.
“Those four 3s just broke out back,” Kevin Durant admitted. “Breakdowns just broke our back.”
The Thunder seemed to have the game under control most of the way. They led by as many as 10 and then by 7 with 3:56 to go and again by 7 with 2:28 to play.
But again in those final 148 seconds the Pacers went on an improbable 15-7 run, rallying for a 101-98 win.
"It's about us coming out of this All-Star break trying to play the right way, trying to get some wins and trying to turn our season around," Pacers forward Paul George said. "Where they're (the Thunder) positioned right now, they're in the playoffs. For us, we're hanging on, and we're trying to remain and move up in the standings. So it was more so us playing desperate."
Maybe that’s why so many strange and improbable things happened. Like Ian Mahinmi going for a career high 19 points and Myles Turner swatting away a career high six shots, and even more improbable how about Turner not only taking but hitting a last minute 3-pointer? It was only the third 3-ball Turner has attempted in this his rookie season and the first one he’d hit.
Of course the Thunder had left him unguarded and why wouldn’t they? Sharpshooter and most time ball hawk Monta Ellis had the rock so Serge Ibaka left Turner to double up on Ellis thinking he would drive to the basket. Instead Ellis passed it to Turner in the corner and the rookie took the shot with 55.4 seconds to play.
Splash. Tie game at 95.
"I was surprised that Monta passed it to Myles," George said, laughing. "We always joke with Monta shooting 3 and stepping out there. So I was surprised that Monta made that play and trusted the young fella."
Yep strange, improbable things.
Like Durant missing his first six shots from beyond the arc, then hitting a couple in the closing seconds, including one with 5.7 seconds left to bring the Thunder within one.
And like Donovan calling his last timeout in between free throws from Paul George after he’d been fouled with 5.2 seconds to play. George, an All-Star, had missed his first free throw and Donovan said he was “trying to ice him.” Like Billy had suddenly flashed back to his Florida days and thought some wild eyed freshman from Popcorn State was at the line.
George of course made that second free throw (he ended up 8-for-9 at the line) and the Thunder, now without benefit of that last timeout, which could have moved the Thunder into their front court, instead had to rely on a running, half-court heave from Russell Westbrook that didn’t find its mark giving the Thunder their first home loss in their last 10 games at The Peake.
Durant finished with 31 points and eight rebounds, Westbrook had 23 and a career-high 18 assists. OKC also got double-doubles from Ibaka (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Enes Kanter (13 points, 10 rebounds) but the big Turk was just 5-for-15 shooting with several fails right at the rim.
That was another of those strange, improbable things. Kanter is usually money down there.
And the Thunder are generally, and certainly have been lately, much better offensively. They came in averaging 110.1 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting but scored just 98 against Indiana on 43.8 percent. They were shooting 36.1 percent (7th in the NBA) from beyond the arc but managed a paltry 19.2 percent (5-for-26) last night.
It was a disappointing result because you couldn’t escape the feeling the Thunder gave away a game that appeared to be safely in the bag. The loss made even more disappointing because the Thunder could have gained ground on both the Warriors, who were clobbered in Portland last night and more importantly the Spurs who had been clobbered by the Clippers the night before.
And now the Thunder face a bounce-back situation against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon.
“Just a little more focus on the floor and we’ll be fine,” Durant said.
And whatever you do don’t lose the arc.