3 takeaways from another close Thunder loss vs. Pacers

During a press conference before the Wednesday game against the Indiana Pacers, it was mentioned to Kenrich Williams that the Oklahoma City Thunder had had three competitive, winnable games in a row, but weren’t able to pull through. He was asked what the team needs to do to close out and win.

“I don’t think it’s all at the end, I think it’s throughout the game,” Williams said. “Little mistakes here and there.”

Six hours later, it was apparent that this was the case once agian. The Thunder lost to the Pacers 122-116 in a game in which they outscored Indiana in the second half and even cut the deficit as low as a single point in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t snap the losing streak that has now reached 12.

Head coach Mark Daigneault said it wasn’t about the finish as much as the little mistakes that piled up throughout the first three quarters.

“In the course of the game, we just gotta be a little cleaner with our execution, whether it’s transition D, early on it was the glass, obviously we had some untimely turnovers tonight. We took a couple tough shots in the first half,” Daigneault said. “And that stuff just adds up over the course of the game.”

The Thunder cut what had been a 13-point deficit down to one with 5:08 to play when Moses Brown got an easy dunk. But in the next six seconds, Caris LeVert streaked up the court and hit a layup for an and-one, which sparked a quick seven-point Pacers run.

With 32 seconds to play, Darius Bazley hit a layup to make it a five-point game. Ty Jerome stole the ball and made a 3-pointer with 24.5 seconds to go to pull within two points.

Oklahoma City couldn’t get any closer than that, though, as Malcolm Brogdon closed it out with four free throws and finish with a game-high 29 points.

“We played with a little bit of a deficit tonight down the stretch and I’m happy with how we hung in there,” Daigneault said. “Got it back down to two, gave ourselves a chance.”

Here are three takeaways:.

Versatile center group

The injury bug hit the Indiana Pacers bad. They were down three starters and six rotation players, including bigs Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Goga Bitadze. As a result, Indiana ran out a starting five of guards Malcolm Brogdon, Edmond Sumner and Caris LeVert alongside 6-foot-6 forward Justin Holiday and 6-foot-7 forward Oshae Brissett. Oklahoma City initially countered with guards Theo Maledon (6-foot-4) and Svi Mykhailiuk (6-foot-7) with 7-foot forward Aleksej Pokusevski, 6-foot-8 forward Darius Bazley and 7-foot-2 center Moses Brown. "We took advantage of the smaller matchups and them just not being able to box us out and keep us off the glass," Brown said. The Thunder outrebounded the Pacers 56-47 and scored 76 points in the paint, a season-high. Brown had 12 points and 11 rebounds in just 17 minutes of play. His minute count was so low because Daigneault thought the Thunder had a better chance with Bazley or Isaiah Roby (6-foot-8) at center. "They were obviously really, really small tonight and so we played (Roby) at the 5 some to try to match that, including down the stretch we played Baze at the 5," Daigneault said. Bazley had 26 points, while Roby scored seven in 28 minutes off the bench. "I’m a bit quicker than some 5s. The team we were going against tonight, they were playing a bit small tonight because they were missing some bigs, so just trying to get me to go against maybe some of their slower guys," Bazley said. Oklahoma City can find benefit with the options of playing with a more traditional center like Brown or Tony Bradley, or switching it up to the versatile perimeter-oriented bigs. "We just use it to our advantage," Bazley said. "I think it helps us in that we’re able to put guys in different spots, it doesn’t really matter the position."

Points in the paint

About those points in the paint -- this isn't an isolated incident. The Thunder didn't rack up 76 points down low just because the Pacers decided (were forced) to play a group of guards and wings. Oklahoma City has been relying on its paint production in recent weeks. The Thunder had 70 points in the paint on April 5 against the Detroit Pistons and April 14 against the Golden State Warriors. They had 60 on April 10 against the Philadelphia 76ers and on April 16 against the Pistons. Daigneault pointed out that the Thunder did most of their damage on drives, not with their big men. "One of the things we’ve really done for probably a 10- or 15-game stretch now is we've really hit the paint with the ball. We've opened the floor up and our guys are driving and kicking and we’re getting 100 paint touches a night, pretty much," Daigneault said. "A lot of the points in the paint tonight were a byproduct of that." It's probably not a coincidence that this has lined up with poor 3-point shooting nights. They shot 18.5% from deep in the first game against the Pistons, 25.9% against the Warriors, 17.9% in the second Pistons game and 31% on Wednesday. Only the Sixers game, a 40% outing on just 20 attempts that tied a season-low, did they have a good night from behind the arc. The Thunder need to find a happy medium between the two for ideal results.

Bazley strikes again

After setting a career-high with 26 points on Monday, Bazley matched that tally on Wednesday night. It's the first time this season he has posted consecutive 20-point games, and he is averaging 19.0 points in his seven appearances since returning from his shoulder injury. In the last two games, he has also spent considerable time defending guards Russell Westbrook and Caris LeVert. Daigneault likes that Bazley has been playing aggressively on offense. "He's made a jump there and he's playing with that type of mindset," Daigneault said. "He guarded LeVert for a lot of the possessions tonight, did a pretty good job on him. Tonight (Bazley) wasn’t overly efficient, he wasn’t as efficient as he has been, but the aggressiveness is definitely there and he’s getting to his spots. ... He's progressing."