With a tough road ahead, Thunder let one slip away against Pacers

OKLAHOMA CITY -- With 2:47 to play in Friday night's game, Kevin Durant glided into a soft 15-foot jumper to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a seven-point lead over the Indiana Pacers, seeming to slam the door shut on a quality win to kick off the post-All-Star break stretch run.

But then Indiana's George Hill hit a 3-pointer. Serge Ibaka had his shot blocked, then traveled after he got the ball back. Monta Ellis hit a 3. Steven Adams was then stripped of what was going to be an easy dunk.

A Thunder stop and a couple of Russell Westbrook free throws put OKC back up three, but impressive rookie Myles Turner splashed the first 3 of his career from the corner -- on only his third career attempt -- to tie the score with 50 seconds left. Durant settled for a deep 3, and Ellis hit another 3, twisting off a screen to put the Pacers up 98-95 with 18 seconds left.

A seven-point lead was gone in two-and-a-half minutes, and an apparent sure win evaporated right in front of them as Westbrook's 35-footer fell short at the buzzer. Pacers 101, Thunder 98.

"Those four 3s just broke our back," Durant said. "Breakdowns gave up 3s, they broke our back. That's the game."

Coming off a weeklong break, the Thunder possibly showed some signs of rust, as they hit only 5-of-26 from 3, including Durant going 2-of-9 from long range.

But that's low-hanging fruit as the Thunder controlled the game for basically 46 minutes, digging in defensively and executing well enough offensively behind a stellar game from Westbrook, who finished with 23 points and a career-high 18 assists. The Thunder led for all but 67 seconds of the second half. But in the end, two-and-a-half minutes of breakdowns, on both ends, cost them.

"Just a little bit more focus in the fourth," Durant said. "We'll be fine. I think for the whole game we played a really good defensive game outside of those last few minutes."

The Thunder were rolling heading into the break, rattling off a 19-4 record since Christmas and winning 30 of their last 37. Their record swelled to a robust 40-14, and they steadily built a contender's resume. One thing about that: Some of it might have been fool's gold, with a light January schedule helping inflate the win column.

Starting with Friday's game against the Pacers, the Thunder have the most difficult schedule in the league the rest of the way, in terms of opposing win percentage. Which makes Friday's result sting even more. It's one thing to brush off a bad loss and turn around with confidence that you're going to win your next four. But the Thunder are going to have to earn it on the way out. Case in point: The Thunder's bounce-back opportunity comes Sunday, in OKC, against the Cavs.

"The defensive lapses toward the end of the game, we can't have those," Westbrook said. "Second half of the season, man, it's getting close to playoff time. We've got to put more pressure on ourselves to be better."

That's what losing does, it draws a simple line in the sand and makes almost 47 minutes of good look very, very bad. Westbrook was spectacular in orchestrating offense, Durant mostly ruthless with 31 points, Ibaka looked energized and aggressive. But that's all filler now, just notes buried under a swift collapse.

The Thunder clearly are good. But they also have had their concerning moments, such as in Friday's game when they struggled to open the fourth as Durant and Westbrook sat. That has been a theme, and while a simple rotational adjustment in the postseason fixes that, OKC's issues seem to be spotlighted against the better teams (which tends to happen to, you know, everyone).

Against plus-.500 teams, the Thunder haven't been overly impressive, going just 13-10. They've had a couple of games similar to this one, with the breakdowns in crunch time a concern. And with the challenging road ahead, giving away wins that seemingly are in hand could prove costly.