INDIANAPOLIS — Just when the Indiana Pacers were turning into the forgotten team of the NBA playoff field, they stepped up to knock off the Oklahoma City Thunder and back the Miami Heat into an unfamiliar corner.
Guard Lance Stephenson hit a key 3-point shot in the final minute, forward David West blocked a 3-point attempt by Oklahoma City guard Kevin Durant and the Pacers held off the Thunder, 102-97, on Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The victory, the Pacers’ first over Oklahoma City in more than two years, put the Pacers (55-26) in position to win the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage prior to the NBA Finals. If Indiana wins its regular season finale Wednesday at Orlando, or Miami loses either one of its two remaining games, the Pacers would capture the top seed. Indiana holds an advantage in the tiebreaker over Miami because of a better conference record.
“It’s a big step,” said Indiana guard C.J. Watson, who came off the bench and scored a season-high 20 points. “We needed it.”
Kevin Durant scored a game-high 38 points for Oklahoma City (58-22), which was attempting to clinch the No. 2 playoff seed in the Western Conference. Guard Russell Westbrook added 21 points for the Thunder.
“It was a tough game. This changes nothing regarding our playoff race,” Durant said.
Before Sunday, the Pacers had lost six of their previous eight games. One of those wins was delivered by the team’s bench players at the Milwaukee Bucks when all of the team’s starters were given the night off by coach Frank Vogel.
“What surprises me is that people are down on them,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “They’re a good basketball team. In an 82-game season, you’re going to have some tough times.”
Stephenson had his fifth triple-double of the season, scoring 17 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and totaling 11 assists. His 3-pointer with 34 seconds left put the Pacers up 97-91 and Stephenson reacted by dancing down the court.
“We played loose and didn’t worry about turnovers and just played ball,” Stephenson said.
The Thunder forced 21 Indiana turnovers, but were outrebounded by the Pacers, 46-32.
Seconds before Stephenson’s basket, West blocked a 3-point attempt by Durant and the ball deflected to Stephenson. If the shot had fallen, the score would have been tied.
“David West is a special player,” Vogel said. “Everything you could want in a player, he is.”
West led Indiana with 21 points and forward Paul George added 20 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Watson was playing in just his third game since returning from a right hamstring injury and said he is still playing in pain. He scored a team-high 14 points in the first half. A 3-pointer by Watson with 9:10 left in the game gave Indiana an 11-point lead.
“We don’t win the game without him doing what he did,” Vogel said. “He was spectacular. We certainly did miss him when he was out.”
Durant, who topped 30 points for the second time in his last three games, hit 13-of-27 shots and was 10-for-10 at the free-throw line. He scored 12 points in the first quarter when the Thunder went up by three.
“We knew he was going to make shots,” West said. “We just wanted to make sure we were there.”
A 10-3 Indiana run early in the third quarter, which included a slam dunk by George following an Oklahoma City turnover and another basket on the next possession by George, put the Pacers up by five points, 60-55. The Pacers built that lead to eight by the end of the quarter, mostly on free throws.
One of the free throws by George was the result of a technical foul called on Oklahoma City power forward Serge Ibaka, who charged after a referee when he was whistled for a foul.
NOTES: Thunder coach Scott Brooks says he does not anticipate any major rests for his starting players leading up to the playoffs. They finish up the season Monday at New Orleans and Wednesday at home against Detroit. “I want to win every practice, win every game,” Brooks said. … Thunder G Kevin Durant has virtually clinched the NBA scoring championship for the fifth consecutive year in terms of points scored. He has scored 2,526 points. Only Michael Jordan (seven) and Wilt Chamberlain (seven) had longer consecutive season points titles. … Pacers G George Hill and coach Frank Vogel watched video together of Friday’s game in Miami, a learning session that was a result of Hill not taking a shot and scoring zero points in the Pacers’ 98-86 loss. “I certainly should have tried to get him more involved (in having a shot opportunity),” Vogel said. … The Pacers, who have lost seven of their last eight road games, finish the regular season Wednesday at Orlando.
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