McConnell, Smith power Pacers past Thunder, 121-117
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — T.J. McConnell had 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Jalen Smith added 12 points and 15 rebounds and the short-handed Indiana Pacers held off the playoff-hopeful Oklahoma City Thunder 121-117 on Friday night.
Playing without injured All-Star Tyrese Haliburton and starting center Myles Turner, the Pacers shot 46% and outrebounded the Thunder 64-49. They had lost six of their last seven.
“Great basketball game,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “T.J. was great in the fourth quarter. His attitude is one of the big reasons we were able to win. Oklahoma City is playing all their guys and going for this, and to stand up to them and play the way we did, our guys stayed the course.”
Andrew Nembhard had 18 points and six rebounds for Indiana. Jordan Nwora, Isaiah Jackson and Buddy Hield each scored 13 points.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 39 points, going 17 of 17 on free throws, and nine rebounds for the Thunder. They began the night in 10th place in the Western Conference but missed an opportunity to get back to .500.
“I thought we had opportunities,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “We didn’t close the third as well as we could have. The guys care. We’re competing and trying to get there, but we’ll grow from these experiences regardless of whether we come out on top.”
Josh Giddey added 21 points and seven rebounds for Oklahoma City, Jalen Williams had 14 points, six assists and six rebounds, and Lu Dort finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Bennedict Mathurin, who had 15 points, made a free throw with 0.8 seconds left to put the game out of reach. With Oklahoma City trailing 120-117, Williams committed a turnover on a pass out of bounds.
With 14.5 seconds remaining and Indiana clinging to a 117-115 lead, McConnell chased after a loose ball near the right sideline and appeared to earn the Pacers the possession by throwing the ball out of bounds off of Dort. Oklahoma City challenged, however, and the call was overturned.
“The call didn’t go our way; we can’t put our head down and pout about it,” McConnell said. “We got out and got some stops.”
Gilgeous-Alexander then missed a turnaround jumper from the right baseline with 10 seconds to go. Smith rebounded and made one of two foul shots to push Indiana’s lead to 118-115.
With 6.8 seconds left, the Pacers intentionally fouled Gilgeous-Alexander, who made both free throws to pull Oklahoma City back within a point.
“Those past (losses) weren’t a good feeling,” Smith said. “T.J. did a great job. It’s T.J. We expect that from him.”
Thunder: Gilgeous-Alexander, who originally was listed as out before being upgraded to questionable, returned after missing the previous two because of an ankle sprain. … Oklahoma City won the teams’ other meeting this season, 126-106 on Jan. 18 in a game the Thunder shot 51% from the field.
Pacers: Nembhard played collegiately at Gonzaga, where he was a teammate of Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 draft, Holmgren sustained a foot injury in August that has sidelined him all season.
Thunder: Host Phoenix on Sunday night.
Pacers: At Cleveland on Sunday night. ___
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Chris Goff, The Associated Press