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Thunder extend freefall to twelve, skidding to Pacers 122-116

Despite the Thunder facing a Pacers team absent of all prominent frontcourt figures (Domantis Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Goga Bitadze,) they still failed to notch a victory, sliding 122-116. Oklahoma City’s loss now marks the twelfth-straight game without a win, currently placing them at 20-39 for the fifth-best lottery odds. For Indiana, their victory Wednesday was pivotal as they still remain ninth in the East with a 27-31 record.

Indiana rolled out a small-ball lineup placing 6-foot-7 Oshae Brissett against Oklahoma City — but size did not matter to begin the night. Indiana began the night strong, collecting two offensive rebounds on their first drive, later congesting the lane for a Moses Brown turnover just a couple of possessions later. The Pacers iced their obvious size advantage early sinking their first 4-of-5 field goals from distance, working inside immediately after for an 18-12 lead. Mark Daigneault made a head-scratching move to replace Brown for Roby at the five; however, that move spurred on a 10-0 run that saw Oklahoma City strike the lead. Once the Thunder opted to insert Tony Bradley into the rotation, the lead flipped between both sides until the bitter end of the quarter, where Indiana led 34-28. 

The second quarter continued what Indiana started in the first hounding Oklahoma City off a 13-6 run three minutes in the period to tally a 13-point lead. The Thunder played double-digit catch-up for the majority of the frame utilizing a small-ball and traditional lineup in the process.  The Thunder clawed single-digits at the three-minute mark as Moses Brown made a diving save to Darius Bazley for a two-handed slam, but immediately after the Pacers boosted right back to ten off a Malcolm Brogdon layup — holding a ten-point margin until the buzzer 67-57.

The first twenty-four minutes showed a style clash between Oklahoma City and Indiana the entire way through. For the Thunder, they took advantage of their size manhandling the Pacers 38-28 in the paint while adding 16-second chance points. Indiana created ample opportunity from distance in the half, canning 10-of-22 (45%) tries from deep while holding Oklahoma City to a frigid 4-of-13 (30.8%.) In efforts to combat their deficiency under the rim, the Pacers broke into transition for 12 fastbreak points and even 20 points off of refires. In another noteworthy moment, Aleksej Pokusevski was declared out for the second half after being pulled five minutes in for a “Non-COVID illness.”

The Thunder sparked an inkling of a run to begin the third, cutting the game to eight while holding Indiana to a 1-of-5 start, but three turnovers in a two-minute span led to their golden opportunity whittling away — at least that’s how it appeared. Right as the Pacers seemingly had the game under control, Moses Brown erupted under the basket to push 7 of the Thunder’s 11-straight points. Brown sounded off his run by prying a rebound out of Malcolm Brogdon’s hands resulting in an and-one to cut the game to one. Nate Bjorkgren called a cautionary timeout to halt Oklahoma City’s progress, and after Moses Brown was pulled — it paid off, running a 13-4 run to reclaim a ten-point cushion. Ultimately, the Thunder chipped Indiana’s lead down 93-86 entering the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma City scoured the interior to begin the fourth, raining down four straight inside baskets to cut the game to one possession after three minutes. Sides partook in a four-minute back-and-forth matching jabs stride-for-stride. Rumblings began at the midway point when Moses Brown flushed a dunk to trail just one, but five unanswered Caris LeVert tallies evaporated any shot of capturing the lead. Oklahoma City nipped Indiana’s lead back down to five two possessions later but the nagging presence of LeVert and Oshae Brissett remained, resulting in a 118-109 lead with 90 seconds of play. Just when the Thunder seemed out, they hit the gas pedal in unprecedented fashion. The group sounded off a Mykhailiuk and Bazley layup before Kenrich Williams pressured Malcolm Brogdon off the inbound, yielding a turnover that produced a Theo Maledon left-wing three off a Ty Jerome kick-out — 118-116 game with 24.5 seconds to go. On the ensuing drive, the Thunder failed to force a turnover, leading Brogdon to the line for a pair of free throws, draining both. After a timeout, Darius Bazley drove left for a layup, but after a deflected dump-off, the clock dropped to 12 seconds. Off left-baseline inbound, Bazley received the ball again, shanking a 7-foot fadeaway to stir a free throw battle they couldn’t wiggle out of. 

Mark Daigneault noted postgame the Thunder’s execution needs to be “cleaner” down the stretch, but added “I’m happy with how we hung in there.” For the Thunder, this was the fourth-straight game where they shaved their deficit to single-digits inside the final five minutes, but still went no dice on the win.

The Indiana Pacers put there marbles into backcourt stars Malcolm Brodgon and Caris LeVert who added 29 points (11-of-23 FG) and 15 rebounds, and 28 points and 5 boards respectively — but they found hidden co-star in Oshae Brissett.

Brissett, age 22, inked a multi-year contract with the Pacers leading up to Wednesday’s contest, and in his second-career start, he didn’t disappoint. At 6-foot-7 Brissett needed to play full-time center for his whole 42-minute stint, but he didn’t show any give, hoarding 12 rebounds while collecting 23 points (8-of-16 FG) on both catch-and-shoot and driving baskets.

Oklahoma City abused their height advantage from the get-go ending the night with 76 points in the paint (tied for most in franchise history,) but with a paltry 9-of-29 going from deep — there big inside night was simply not enough.

When asked about Oklahoma City’s scoring inside, Daigneault stated, “Most of it was on drives, one of the things we’ve really done for a 10-15 game stretch now, is we’ve really hit the paint with the ball.” Adding “Our guys are doing a really good job of driving in straight lines.”

Darius Bazley was the main reciepient of points inside, and rightfully so, he recorded a team-high 26 points (9-of-25 FG) while snagging 9 rebounds. Baze had a rough night from distance shooting 1-of-8; however, his 7-of-9 venture from the foul line helped ease tension.

Baze saw his first center minutes logged in efforts to clam Oshae Brissett — he posed a just match. The sophomore highlighted his speed while playing at the five postgame, calling it an advantage when matched with slower defenders.

“He is getting to his spots, getting really good plays in there, getting to the line, he is progressing,” said Daigneault, when asked on Bazley’s inside game.

Svi Mykhailiuk finished Wednesday with 20 points (9-of-16 FG,) 9 rebounds, and 4 assists in his return to the starting lineup. Mykhailiuk was added at the traded deadline for sole “sharpshooting” purposes, but in his performance he carried a major inside-out game. He sunk of 2-of-5 threes in his 36 minutes, but all of his other 7 made field goals came off a driving layup, or in some cases — dunks.

Moses Brown seemed almost destined for a big game Wednesday, and though he recorded 12 points and 11 rebounds (6 off.) in 16 minutes, it still felt as if more was in the tank.

Brown faced Brissett (his man) in the Orlando bubble two months ago. In this contest, Brown rallied video-game numbers with 24 points (10-of-17 FG) and 20 rebounds (9 off.) in 24 minutes — Brissett totaled 16 points (5-of-12 FG) and 18 rebounds in 37 minutes.

With these parameters set, there was a good chance Brown would simply be able to play bully-ball offense on Brissett all night — but with names in Bazley and Mykhailiuk readily slashing to the basket, he was in no position for simple 1-on-1 situations.

Kenrich Williams crafted a well-orchestrated performance with 15 points (6-of-12 FG,) 7 rebounds, and 2 steals on the game while Isaiah Roby tacked on 7 points (3-of-6 FG,) 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in his reinsertion as a five.

“He’s gotten a lot of minutes this season at both spots, and proven he can be effective at both spots,” Daigneault noted on Roby.

Next up, the Oklahoma City Thunder (20-39) will face the Washington Wizards (25-33) Friday night for their second meeting of the week.

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