To say the Indiana Pacers have struggled lately would be a bit of an understatement. 8-13 in their last 21 games, the Pacers have looked nothing like the team that dominated the Eastern Conference in the first half of the season.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma City, the Pacers looked more like their first-half selves on Sunday, as the Thunder failed to clinch the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs, falling to Indiana, 102-97.
The loss also ended the Thunder's impressive streak of improving its win percentage from year-to-year. At best, OKC will have the same record as it did a year ago.
Indiana's style is one of tough defense and aggression, and it was able to dictate the pace again Oklahoma City. The Thunder came into Sunday's game averaging 45 rebounds per game, but was outrebounded by the rugged Pacers, 46-32. The Pacers did a great job of keeping the Thunder off the offensive glass, as OKC managed to grab just eight offensive rebounds.
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 38 points, but hit just 2-of-11 from 3-point range and shot less than 50 percent from the field for the fifth time in April's seven games. Durant's spinning 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left brought the Thunder to within two points, but David West hit two free throws to push the lead back to four. Durant then missed a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds left to clinch the game for Indiana.
Russell Westbrook added 21 points, but was 7-of-23 from the field and 3-of-10 from 3-point range. As a team, OKC was just 7-of-28 from deep. Westbrook's energy and aggressive nature were key for the Thunder during a furious fourth quarter rally, but his quick trigger from 3-point range proved costly.
Serge Ibaka had 11 points and Caron Butler came off the bench to score 13 points. Reggie Jackson had eight points off the bench, but was flattened on a screen from Ian Mahinmi early in the fourth quarter and missed the rest of the game. Jackson had precautionary X-rays taken in the locker room on his neck.
The Thunder shot 42.9 percent from the field for the game, and 37.5 percent in the first half. Meanwhile, the Pacers managed to shoot 52.8 percent for the game, helped in large part by a very efficient performance from the bench and terrific performances from West and Lance Stephenson.
The Indiana bench was the difference in the game, as Luis Scola (10 points), Ian Mahinmi (11 points) and C.J. Watson (20 points) combined for 41 points and kept the Thunder at bay throughout the afternoon. 20 of the group's 27 first half points came in the second quarter, where Watson hit three of his four 3-pointers.
West had 21 points to lead the Pacers on 9-of-11 shooting. Stephenson had a triple double of 17 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Stephenson's 3-pointer with 34.2 seconds left seemingly iced the game for the Pacers, giving Indiana a 97-91 lead with 34.2 seconds left. However, OKC made one final push before falling.
Paul George had 20 points and 12 rebounds, but struggled through a 6-of-17 shooting performance. The Thunder completely neutralized Roy Hibbert, as the Pacers big man was 0-for-9 from the field with just six rebounds.
Oklahoma City was plenty aggressive on defense throughout the game, forcing 21 turnovers and turning those into 21 points. The Thunder was especially active in the passing lanes, collecting 12 steals, with Butler and Ibaka collecting three each.
The Thunder's magic number to clinch the No. 2 seed remains just one. Any combination of a Thunder win or a Clippers loss would assure the Thunder that position.