Now, as it pertains to this dismal back-to-back, the loss to the Pacers didn’t really hurt too much. I thought we played them hard, and we weren’t “exposed” in the loss, or anything like that. And the game had plenty of that 4th quarter drama that makes games exciting.
With 8:16 to play, the Pacers were clinging to a 11-point lead (85-74). That’s when the Thunder sparked a 15-4 run to tie the game at 89-all with 2:46 to play. Needless to say, the crowd in Banker’s Life Fieldhouse were beginning to brace themselves for yet another disappointing finish, which has become a bit of a recurring theme for the Pacers in this late-season stretch. The Pacers, however, had other ideas. They were able to catch the Thunder prematurely resting on their laurels, and broke out a 9-2 run to take a 98-91 lead with 22.4 seconds remaining. They finished with a 102-97 final that jumped their Eastern Conference-best record to 55-26, while dropping the Thunder to 58-22.
Kevin Durant was good for 38 points in that contest, while Russell Westbrook chipped in 21 points. Serge Ibaka dropped 11 points, and Caron Butler drained 13 points from the Thunder bench.
David West’s 21 points led all Pacers to score. While Paul George had a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double, I don’t see how you can name anyone other than Lance Stephenson Player of the Game after his 17-point, 11-assist, 10-rebound triple-double. Another thing that really helped the Pacers was the bench combo of CJ Watson, Ian Mahinmi, and Luis Scola combining for an eye-popping 41 points (Watson: 20, Mahinmi: 11, Scola: 10).
Now the Pelicans loss is the one that has me shaking my head. The Thunder had blown out this same team 116-94 a mere three days ago. Granted, Westbrook took to the floor for last Friday’s affair, and didn’t for this one, but that should not have made a difference. This was a Pelicans team that had dropped 8 straight contests heading into this one.
Oddly enough, however, some analysts thought the Thunder would have taken that game had it not been for the Austin Rivers ejection. Here’s the incident that sent both Rivers and Nick Collison to their respective locker rooms for the remainder of the game:
What this video fails to show you, however, is the shove by Collison on Rivers as they were switching ends. That’s why Collison got ejected as well. But the reason Rivers’ ejection is so important is because it opened the door for Tyreke Evans, who just completely went off on the Thunder.
Another odd story here is that Evans didn’t even think he was going to play in that game. A bone bruise in his right knee, suffered during Friday’s Thunder game, almost had him sidelined for this one as well. Pelicans head coach, Monty Williams, didn’t even think he would be suiting up. Evans got clearance to play literally 90 minutes before tip-off. The end result was a 101-89 beating that made the Thunder look like a tired team simply waiting for the playoffs to arrive.
Durant dropped 25 points for the game, yet was not the leading scorer. Serge Ibaka’s highly impressive 22-point, 16-rebound double-double wasn’t even enough to secure the victory. Caron Butler even dropped 19 points off of the Thunder bench.
The problem is, all those impressive stats were completely negated by Evans’ masterful 41-point explosion. He didn’t really get a lot of help either. Darius Miller and Alexis Ajinca only dropped 10 points apiece, and Luke Babbitt’s 12 points from the bench marked the only other double-digit performance from any Pelicans players.
Now the Thunder were looking towards hosting the Pistons for the regular season finale. Would they enter the playoffs on a 3-game losing skid? The Pistons postgame will answer that question very shortly.