|Lance Stephenson had his fifth triple-double of the season|
in the Pacers' victory over the Thunder Sunday.
Well, where to start here? First, with the game tied at 89-89, Paul George came off a screen and hit a wide open 3-pointer to give the Pacers the lead for good with 2:09 left. He doesn't have to hit every shot he takes, but he has to hit those if the Pacers can entertain any kind of championship hopes. Then, you had David West make a key switch on the defensive end, and make a perfectly clean block on a Kevin Durant 3-point attempt when the Pacers were up 94-91. And finally, too, there was Lance Stephenson, with the shot clock running down on the possession after the West block. hitting a 3-pointer to put the Pacers up 97-91 with 34.2 seconds remaining. All necessary late plays to win this game.
1) We'll start with C.J. Watson. During the Pacers' recent doldrums, one of the questions asked was if them missing the backup point guard for a stretch of 17 of 18 games before he returned against Milwaukee Wednesday was really that big of a deal. Well, it was hard to say for sure that it was, but it's hard to imagine the Pacers winning this game without Watson. He scored 20 points while hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers, and also had another traditional 3-point play. Yes, there was the obvious lift he gave them simply based on numbers, but the emotional boost that came with those 3-pointers also played a significant role in the outcome of this one. In an odd sort of way, the Pacers might not have been sure what they were missing with Watson when he couldn't play due to a bad hamstring. But they certainly know what they have now that he is healthy and available again.
2) Next you've got Lance Stephenson in this one with his league leading fifth triple-double of the year with 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. The good thing here is that the game was so close that whether he was going to get a triple-double or not didn't really matter. Maybe the best sign of all in this game was that after he hit his key 3-pointer, Stephenson ran back down the court and gave Vogel a low five. When Stephenson is having a fun and showing some confidence like that, he makes the Pacers a very difficult team to beat.
3) Let's not forget about David West in this game, too. West, along with having that key block, was efficient on offense, hitting 9 of 11 shots for 21 points. And maybe his biggest two points came on free throws with 8.3 seconds left that gave the Pacers a four-point lead. I've always said West is the Pacers best clutch player and it was no surprise to see him hit those free throws.
4) And finally, there was the bench frontcourt play of Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi who combined for 21 points. With starting center Roy Hibbert struggling on offense, Mahinmi gave the Pacers 11 important points from the center position, hitting all four of his shots and adding five rebounds. Also, Scola continued his recent strong play with 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting and his ability to play productive extended minutes also helps keep West stretch for the later stages of the game.
1) Well, yes, it seems a bit of miracle here that the Pacers beat such a good team with zero points from Hibbert, who was 0 for 9 from the field. It's clear the Pacers will need to get something from Hibbert on the offensive end in the playoffs if they want to reach the finals. I do give Hibbert's teammates credit for throwing the ball down to him when he had good post position. It was the right play to make, whether he made the shots or not, and making the right plays is still really important for this team if it wants to take steps forward.
2) Well, yes, about those turnovers. The Pacers had 23 of them and it's also amazing that they beat the Thunder with that many giveaways. However, the Pacers did shoot 53 percent, so here's the question you have to ask: Do you want the Pacers team that tries to move the ball around on offense and has a high turnover rate and high shooting percentage? Or do you want the team that stands around on offense and struggles to shoot 40 percent, but fewer turnovers? Well, the best answer is to move the ball without the turnovers, but make note of this, too: When an NBA team shoots 50 percent from the field, it almost never loses. So, for now, just live with the turnovers.
The Pacers final regular season game before the playoffs which will begin for them either Saturday or Sunday, will be at Orlando in a 7 p.m. game. The Magic are (23-56) and play at Chicago on Monday. Orlando is led by Arron Afflalo at 18.2 points, Tobias Harris at 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds, Nikola Vucevic at 14.2 points and 11 rebounds, former Indiana University star Victor Oladipo at 14 points and point guard Jameer Nelson at 12 points and seven assists. If the Pacers need this game to reach the No. 1 seed, it's not going to be easy for them. The Magic are playing their final game of the season in front of their fans and they will want to leave their fans and themselves with a good ending to what has been a rebuilding season. The Pacers defeated 97-87 in Orland on Oct. 29, Orlando 88-79 at Indiana on Feb. 3 and 93-92 at Orlando Feb. 9. None of those games were easy wins by any stretch.