Who would have really thought that the Indiana Pacers, at their lowest point of the season, would weather the storm against the Oklahoma City Thunder? I mean, in the final games of the regular season, the Pacers seemed to be having an absolute meltdown after going 3-7 in their last 10 games. What better way to right the ship than against future MVP Kevin Durant and the Western Conference favorite Thunder?
From the tip-off, the Pacers played with a chip on their shoulder the size of all the overwhelming criticism they have received after nearly losing grasp of the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. However, none of that matters at this point. The confidence issues, the selfishness issues, the leadership issues – none of that would keep the Pacers from getting over the slump they needed to head into the playoffs with confidence. That is, of course, if they avoid stooping to the lowly Orlando Magic’s level and finish the season strong.
As for tonight, things just went the Pacers’ way. With six players scoring in double-figures, and Paul George, David West and C.J. Watson all scoring at least 20 points, this complete team effort was exactly what the Pacers needed. The key factor was the routine triple-double by the infamous Lance Stephenson. With 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, Stephenson was in the middle of nearly every big play, and most importantly, was the heart and soul of the team tonight. Ian Mahinmi added 11 points with five rebounds, while Luis Scola added 10 points.
The Thunder, on the other hand, found themselves taking uncontrolled shots and forcing the issue far too often. Much of that falls on the shoulders of Russell Westbrook, who notched 21 points on a horrid 7-23 shooting with four turnovers. As usual, Durant had a scoring-fest with 38 on a 13-27 shooting performance, but for arguably the best shooter in the NBA, 2-11 from beyond the arc just isn’t good enough.
As for now, the Pacers added a much-needed win to their confidence with the postseason nearing, and they could be getting over their slump at the perfect time. The Eastern Conference is theirs to lose.