The fist pump from Myles Turner as the clock ran to triple-zeros said it all.
Finally, in a close game, the Indiana Pacers decided it was in their best interest to close it out, against the team with the third-best record in the league, no less: 101-98 over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It’s important not to make too much of one win or one loss, they say, but the truth is, anything great starts a lot of times with one win or one loss and how it gets handled.
This looked like a different Pacers team at times, even when the Thunder were consistently ahead. Guys were passing the ball freely, sometimes even over-passing, trusting one another. Paul George looked at times like All-Star Paul George. Monta Ellis was electric. Ian Mahinmi had his best offensive game in his career. Myles Turner chipped in 16.
All that said, it looked like more doom when the Pacers tinkled down their legs on a fast break late in the game down one, missing three shots around the rim and giving the ball back to the Thunder. “Here we go again” had to be the refrain. After all, the Pacers seem to have made losing close games a cottage industry.
Then, Turner figured out that down three against the Thunder was a great time to go ahead and hit his first three pointer of the game. All the man does is hit clutch threes when asked, right? Ellis drilled a fall-away triple with the shot clock winding down. Pacers up three.
He’d finish with 27 points and 9 assists with a plus-minus of +9. George, who closed it out from the line, showed how great his game can be with generosity, dropping 10 assists to go with his 22 points.
It was the Thunder, this time, who were content to get just close enough to make the bad mistakes — a turnover here, a missed bunny on a quick score attempt down three over there. There’s no secret about what the Thunder are. They’re very, very good, possibly the best team in the East.
However, they don’t play in the East, and they’re a distant third in the West… though you can debate the East part, too, as 10 of their 15 losses now come at the hands of the lesser conference.
This narrative was more about a Pacers team that has been slapping itself mindless with inconsistency in terms of leadership and the ability to make the plays when they need to be made.
Whether it carries over remains to be seen, but you can’t go on a long winning streak without winning that first one, or you can’t gather your mental fortitude unless you lose a demoralizing one and see how you respond. The Pacers are unbeaten since Ellis’ players-only rant to the team right before beating the Pistons and going into All-Star Weekend.
Good thing they signed the guy. Especially Friday night.