By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The Thunder walked right up to the edge of a cliff at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday night and looked for a moment like they were about to fall off.
But instead of blowing a fourth quarter lead and turning it into a loss for the 13th time this season Steven Adams pulled them away from the abyss and Kevin Durant made sure there’d be no buzzer beating heroics from the opposition this time.
Thunder 115, Pacers 111.
The Thunder led by low double-digits with about three minutes to play and were still up eight a minute to go. But the Pacers tend not to go quietly, remember they rallied to beat the Thunder in the closing seconds in OKC back in February and threatened to do the same thing in Indy last night.
A couple of empty possessions from OKC, some clutch shooting by the Pacers and all of a sudden the lead was three and the Pacers had the ball with just a handful of seconds to go.
Paul George, who had already torched the Thunder for 45 points, rose to fire a 3-ball that would have likely forced overtime but Adams, nearly caught in no-mans land after a switch, got a hand in George’s face and his shot bounced off the rim into the arms of Durant.
The Pacers were forced to foul and KD gave his teammates the cushion they needed by hitting both free throws for a 114-109 lead with just :02.8 to go. The Thunder, not wanting to risk fouling, gave up a quick bucket that brought it back to a one possession game but Indiana had to foul Durant again. KD made the first and smartly missed the second allowing time to expire on the rebound.
"It feels like we're getting into a good groove," Durant said after the game. "Tonight we kept grinding. With a back-to-back, coming in here against a team that beat us out of the (All-Star) break, makes it an even better win."
KD finished with 33 points and 13 rebounds, his 55th straight game scoring at least 20 points. Russell Westbrook had another triple-double, becoming so common now the first mention of it comes this far down in the story. He finished with 14 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds getting him to 14 triple-doubles this season to lead the NBA. It’s the most in a season since Magic Johnson had 17 triple-doubles in 1988-89.
The Thunder bench came up huge with Enes Kanter scoring 15 points and Randy Foye getting 12. OKC’s bench outscored the Pacers reserves 45-14.
"Enes gave us great minutes, but I really thought everybody, from the starters to the bench, played well," said head coach Billy Donovan. "That's what we have to have. I think as a group, we were much better coming down the stretch."
Interestingly after giving Serge Ibaka the night off in Philadelphia on Friday Donovan decided to leave him on the bench through the entire fourth quarter. He scored eight points on 4-for-8 shooting. Ibaka stayed on the bench even when Adams hurt his elbow in the fourth quarter forcing Kanter to finish the game except for that last defensive possession.
Kanter responded with rebounds and putbacks coming down the stretch when the Thunder’s offense seemed to stall out at times.
“He’s Sixth Man of the Year in my opinion,” said Durant when asked about Kanter’s play. Westbrook has been on that bandwagon for while and more and more people around the league are starting to pay attention.
So, what a difference a week makes. After the Thunder got popped by the Timberwolves and the Spurs last Friday and Saturday and saw their record fall to 4-8 after the All-Star break they’ve all of a sudden won four straight, three of those on the road. And three of those wins came against playoff teams.
“It was all bad just a week ago,” Durant admitted. “But we feel like we in a groove now. Stayed with it after a few losses, kept grinding.”
The Thunder clinched their playoff berth late last week and can clinch the Northwest Division title this week with three games coming up at home.
The Rockets, with former Thunder Sixth Man James Harden are up first on Tuesday night. Should be fun.