The crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse would not stop booing Paul George on Wednesday night. They booed when he was introduced, booed whenever he touched the ball. Booed like they never booed George during his seven seasons with the Indiana Pacers.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was not all about George. A game took place as well, and the Thunder took over in the second half. Perhaps all the hoopla and talk surrounding George was more of distraction than the Pacers would care to admit. But after winning their previous four games during this six-game homestand, the Pacers (16-12) did not muster a comeback victory, after falling behind by 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Led by center Steven Adams (23 points, 13 rebounds), and doing a superb defensive job on Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (19 points, 9-of-26 shooting), the Thunder defeated the Pacers, 100-95. George, once the face of the Pacers who was traded during the offseason, finished with 12 points and five rebounds on 3-of-14 shooting. But, although this building and these fans were once far friendlier to George, he left with the satisfaction of getting the victory.
It came down to the final minute, after another Pacers rally cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 96-94. After Carmelo Anthony missed badly on a drive to the basket, the Pacers had a chance to tie or go ahead. Initially, Thaddeus Young was called for an offensive foul on a drive when he collided with Thunder forward Josh Huestis. But the call was overturned during a timeout, and Huestis was given the personal foul. Young made the first free throw with 40 seconds to play, but he missed the second, leaving Oklahoma City (12-15) with a one-point lead.
The Thunder had a disjointed next possession, but after Westbrook missed wildly on a drive, Thunder guard Alex Abrines scored on a huge tip-in just before the 24-second clock expired, to put Oklahoma City ahead 98-95 with 15.3 seconds to play.
After a Pacers timeout, they committed a huge turnover. Young almost lost the ball before making the inbounds pass, forcing him to leap in the air and throw an errant pass that George intercepted. After being fouled with 10.7 seconds to play, George ignored the boos and made both free throws. Oklahoma City was ahead by five, and disappointed Pacers fans began heading to the exits.
There were some tense moments down the stretch. After Bojan Bogdanovic made a 3-pointer to pull the Pacers to within 94-88 with 2:40 left, Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony and Young got in each other faces, exchanged words, and were both given technical fouls. After Anthony made 1-of-2 free throws to put Thunder ahead by seven, Bogdonovic was fouled on a drive with 2:13 left.
Bogdonovic made both free throws, and Oklahoma City’s lead was cut to 95-90. But Russell Westbrook, who had a difficult shooting night (3-of-17) drove to the basket and was fouled with 1:54 left. Westbrook split two free throws to give Oklahoma City a six-point lead. Oladipo answered with a driving layup, cutting the Thunder lead to four. Then after strong defense by the Pacers forced an Oklahoma City 24-second violation, Oladipo made a spinning move past Anthony for a layup that cut Oklahoma City’s lead to two, setting up the finish.
Here are three takeaways from this much anticipated game:
1. Getting this game behind them is probably good for both teams
Both teams could have played better, the players involved in the trade looked like they were pressing, and there was so much talk leading up to the game, it was impossible for the players not to pay attention. Oladipo is happy with the Pacers, George does not have to see the Pacers again until next season, and both teams can move on.
2. This game was played at the Thunder’s tempo, not the Pacers’
This crowd was ready to erupt and get wild, but the Pacers never provided the spark. The Thunder’s tough defense and rebounding turned this into a halfcourt game, and fast-break opportunities for the Pacers were few and far between. Oklahoma City walked the ball up the floor. The fans stayed seated, even when they were booing George. And Oklahoma City avoided the momentum-changing Pacers spurts that have carried them recently.
3. Adams had a monster game
The Pacers could not stop Adams from scoring. They could not keep him off the glass. Basically, Oklahoma City’s starting center had his way inside, regardless of whether Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis was defending him. Adams also had a strong game (17 points, 11 rebounds) when Oklahoma City defeated the Pacers in November. And Adams’ night speaks to a bigger issue for the Pacers — rebounding. They have found a way to win games when getting outrebounded, but the Pacers put extra pressure on their defense by giving up offensive rebounds on a regular basis. There isn’t a quick fix for the Pacers’ rebounding situation.