OKC gets back on D for 24-0 run, win over Indy

OKLAHOMA CITY — Down nine at halftime to the Indiana Pacers and with their season sliding over the past few weeks, Paul George knew something had to change for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It did.

The biggest run without an opposing point in the NBA this season — a 24-0 burst early in the third quarter — turned the deficit into a 14-point lead and eventually a 107-99 win.

“We knew it wasn’t enough,” George said of OKC changing its focus. “Coming into half, we knew we needed to change things and we came out and executed that.”

One of the best defensive teams this season, the Thunder have been wildly inconsistent on that end of the floor the past couple of months but cranked up the intensity to spark the run. The Pacers went scoreless for nearly seven minutes — from 10:48 to 3:57, when Tyreke Evans finally made a layup.

George shrugged off a slow start to break loose, with 12 of his 31 points coming in the third quarter, leading the Thunder to a win over his former team.

“Honestly, I noticed the stops more than the scoring,” George said. “I noticed we were getting stops and we were getting out. I noticed the pace was on our side and the momentum was on our side. But I didn’t necessarily notice 24-0 on that stretch.”

Defense leading to offense has been the Thunder’s identity when they play at their standard this season, with energy defensively boosting the other end of the floor. Per Second Spectrum, the Thunder hit 8-of-10 on catch-and-shoot jumpers during the run and 7-of-11 on contested shots.

According to Elias, the Thunder now have two of the three best runs of the season, including Wednesday’s burst against the Pacers. They also had a 22-0 run against the Suns in November. (The Clippers also had a 22-0 run this season.)

“Honestly, I didn’t even pay no mind to that,” Westbrook said of the run. “I was locked in defensively and try to get as many stops as we can to win.”

During the Thunder’s run, the Pacers showed signs of frustration, with the final points coming on a makeshift four-point play for George. After he finished an and-1 over Wesley Matthews, Matthews erupted on an official and drew a technical foul. George hit both free throws to punctuate the run.

For his part, George also was frustrated with a call on the previous play when a foul by Matthews was called on the floor instead of the act of shooting.

“We’re officiated differently,” George said. “I’m gonna change my mindset. It’s tough emotionally to be in the moment and respond to a call or no call. I’m human, but I’ve learned to be better with that. Just try to move on, and a lot of times it throws my game off when I’m wrapped up with the refs and invested too much into the refs, so just trying to change the focus, and I think everybody is. That starts with myself, that starts with Russ. Those guys look up to us in this group. So we just try to change our focus.”

The Thunder have been wrapped up in some officiating controversy the past couple of weeks, with George drawing a $25,000 fine for postgame comments critical of officiating and Westbrook getting suspended a game for technical fouls.

Against the Pacers, though, Westbrook bounced back from a rough game Monday against the Grizzlies to set the tone early, almost defiantly resisting taking shots as he looked to set teammates up. He notched his 29th triple-double of the season — 17 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists — and indicated it was something he had seen on film with the Pacers’ defensive style of packing the paint.

“Just read and react,” Westbrook said. “A lot of teams’ game plan is to try and keep me out of the paint and load the paint and bring a lot of guys, so just got to read and react and make a lot of decisions.”

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