By A. suave Francisco
Monday night the Oklahoma City Thunder aspired to walk into the Indiana Pacers' arena and leave with a victory after playing a solid, all-around game. Those aspirations appeared likely to happen after the first half, but the third quarter set the tone for the rest of the game and the Pacers found a way to slip past the Thunder for a 93-90 victory. Yes, the Pacers are (20-6) at home and this was the back end of a back-to-back for the Thunder, but this loss really stings because of the game Victor Oladipo and Cameron Payne had.
Oklahoma City went up 52-41 at halftime due to their defense turning into offense. But Indiana discovered a formula at halftime that would cripple the Thunder for the remainder of the game. OKC was outscored in the third quarter 32-18, and the Thunder couldn't string together enough stops in the fourth quarter to make an honest comeback effort.
Russell Westbrook was only one assist shy of his 26th triple-double with 27 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists. Like OKC's last few games, he did what he had to do for the Thunder to win the contest but Victor Oladipo underperformed, following his big 24-point outing against the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. Oladipo finished with 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting, and 0-of-6 from three. He simply wasn't hitting tonight and that ended up hurting the Thunder, who fell 16 points shy of their 106 points per game average.
Things may have leveled out if the second team would've played well, but after seeing improvement in the last three games, Cameron Payne resorted back to his old ways by playing timid and being a millisecond too late on his feeds. In 13:26, Payne finished with 2 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds on 1-of-4 shooting. He also added 2 turnovers which aren't acceptable when you have as many assists.
Payne is a guy that the Thunder expect to make a significant impact as Westbrook's backup. Due to his injuries, he hasn't quite had the opportunity to get comfortable while adjusting to NBA player's strength and quickness. With that being said, rookie Semaj Christon looks like he's more adjusted to the NBA's game at this point in the season. He seems more sure of himself, and many have called for Billy Donovan to play Christon over Payne for awhile. The downside of that would be Payne's development yet again being impeded on. The harsh reality may be Payne having more games like this for him to develop into the player we all want him to be for the Thunder. But with Christon playing and appearing more confident, it may be a hard decision for Donovan to make.
After saying all of that, Donovan may have lost this game for the Thunder by playing Payne his normal amount of time in the third quarter, even after he saw Indiana exploiting him on both sides of the ball.
Ending on a good note, Andre Roberson had his second-straight double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. His offensive game has finally made that transition to being the Thunder's designated slasher, instead of being a complete liability on offense. He shot 5-of-8 from the field and didn't shoot one three. Him playing like this, plus his elite defensive play will certainly help this Thunder team improve in many areas, and may keep him in a Thunder uniform long-term.
This was indeed a trap game for this young Thunder team, with two brutally difficult games on the horizon against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday and the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, both at home. Oklahoma City falls to (30-23) on the season.