- When: Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 7:00 pm CST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
- TV: FSOK
- Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
- Line: OKC -14.5 | O/U – 218
I’ve never been a huge fan of moral victories. It feels like a gateway to developing a losing mentality. The great, “Oh, we lost, but…” A team says that enough times and failure becomes an acceptable habit. “Missed it by this much” becomes the norm.
Sunday’s loss felt different, though. Yes, it was definitely a moral victory, which means it was a loss. But it felt like the team discovered something about itself in that fourth quarter (almost) comeback. Russell Westbrook, who has had to adjust on the fly to having two scoring wings next to him, reverted back to what felt natural to him. And it worked. Shots fell. The team got stops. And what started as a 13-point deficit heading into the quarter turned into a one point lead with 5 seconds left. Of course, we all know what transpired after that as Andrew Wiggins and the three referees made sure Minnesota came out of that game with a victory (shouts out to you, Last 2-Minutes report).
Now the question becomes, what bleeds over into this upcoming game. Will the Thunder revert back to what we saw the seven quarters before Sunday’s fourth quarter? Or will the Thunder continue to be ultra-aggressive, imposing their will on opponents? That remains to be seen. Not much can be garnered from a 3-game sample, but the habits of a new team are starting to take shape, with some being good and other being bad. And we know what they say about habits.
The Indiana Pacers come into the game at 2-2, but are surprisingly one of the best offensive teams in the league (2nd in Offensive Rating). They have yet to score less than 112 points in a game, and feature several players who are averaging career highs in scoring this season. Former Thunder players Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis are excelling in their roles with their new team. And the Pacers are doing this without the services of Myles Turner, who has missed the last three games while being under the NBA’s concussion protocol.
- Oklahoma City – Terrance Ferguson (ankle)
- Indiana – Myles Turner (concussion)
Three Big Things
1. Free throws
The free throw line used to be a main staple of the Thunder’s offense. When you have a player as offensively aggressive at Westbrook, you are bound to draw fouls and head to the line quite a lot. In fact, 18% of the offense for the Thunder last season came from the free throw line, which was good for 7th in the league. This season, the charity stripe is constituting just 12.5% of the Thunder’s total offense and that ranks 27th in the league.
This is a problem. As a team the Thunder are averaging just 19 free throw attempts per contest. Last season that number was 25.8. While the Thunder may have better offensive players this season, their aggressiveness isn’t showing. And when the shots aren’t falling consistently, like has been the case in this early going, having an outlet like free throws makes up for that. Instead the Thunder are settling for jumpers and many possessions are ending in misses and rebounds for the other team.
2. Protect the paint
The Pacers are third in the league, scoring 54 points per game in the paint. The Thunder, on the other hand, are allowing just 43.4 points per game in the paint. This will likely be where the game is decided. The Pacers know where their weaknesses lie, so they stay away from the 3-point line, attempting just 23.3 per game. Instead, they use their speed (8th in Pace) and athleticism to get out on the break and drive it to the basket whenever they get a chance.
3. Paul George
We saw Anthony come out fired up to face his old team opening night. We’ll likely see the same thing from George in this game. Bojan Bogdanovic will put the assignment of guarding PG. Good luck to Mr. Bogdanovic.
Interesting fact: Gerald Wilkins, who played with the Thunder in their inaugural season, is back in the NBA with the Pacers after being out of the league for four years. Wonder if he’ll get a “welcome back” tribute.