PACERS RALLY, EXTEND STREAK TO SEVEN

Al Jefferson and the streaking Indiana Pacers are officially one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

Indiana rallied from a double-digit halftime deficit and used a decisive third quarter to overcome and eventually defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 93-90 on Monday. For the Pacers, it was a season-best seventh straight victory, tying them with the Boston Celtics for the second-longest active streak in the league. Only the Miami Heat (11) have one more consecutive games.

Big Al tallied eight points and grabbed five boards in just under 12 minutes off the bench. He’s averaging nearly 10 points, four rebounds and about 13 minutes per game during the streak.

Big Al got his offense going at the end of the first quarter, scoring on a jumper with 2:01 left and again on a spinning, up and under layup with 50 seconds left in the frame. Still, the Thunder led by five after the first.

No. 7 was one of few Indiana players that had luck putting the ball in the basket in the first half. It’s not often that a single stat can summarize a half of basketball, but the Pacers’ 29 percent shooting from the field in the first half does just that. As a result of Indiana’s woeful shooting, Oklahoma City used a 15-1 run in the second quarter to go up 45-30 with 3:34 until the half. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook nearly notched a triple-double before halftime.

But despite a bad half of basketball, Indiana was still within striking distance and trailed by just 11 at the break.

The Pacers emerged from the locker room at halftime a different team. After OKC’s Steven Adams hit two free throws to open second-half scoring, Indiana embarked on a 14-4 run that cut their deficit to one with 5:46 left in the third. OKC regained control, led by Westbrook, who buried a three and followed it with a steal that led to a dunk for Victor Oladipo, causing Indiana coach Nate McMillan to call a timeout to rally his troops.

It worked as the Pacers went on an 8-1 run out of the break to establish their first lead since the first quarter. The teams jockeyed back and forth for the remainder of the quarter and Rodney Stuckey’s last second jumper giving Indy an improbable 73-70 lead going into the fourth.

Big Al came in to start the fourth and hit two big shots in the first two minutes of the quarter. With 10:56 left, Al drop-stepped around Joffrey Lauvergne, leaving the French big man standing still as No. 7 sank a short shot. A minute later, Big Al faced up on, and buried a shot over, Lauvergne to give the Pacers a seven-point lead.

Indiana held a 91-83 with 3:51 to play, but a 7-0 Thunder run that included five from Westbrook cut the lead to one with 2:04 left. OKC missed a chance to take the lead back on their next possession and Pacers star Paul George took advantage, hitting a 15-foot jumper with 1:20 to play, to make it 93-90. That score would hold as the Thunder missed four threes in the final minute of the game, including one attempt by Westbrook with three seconds left.

“I thought the first half was a wake-up call,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan. “We came out like it was just another game, they’re a playoff team and they came out like it was a playoff game. The second half we started to play like we’re capable of playing. Offensively we had more rhythm, more spacing, better execution. But defense was the difference in this ball game.”

The Pacers turned the tables on OKC in the second half, improving their shooting to 46 percent and holding the Thunder to 38 points on 30.2 percent shooting. The win gives Indiana a season sweep of the Thunder after winning 115-111 in overtime in their last meeting.

NEXT UP

The Pacers put their seven-game win streak on the Wednesday against a fearsome foe as the defending NBA champion and Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers come to town.

Indiana won the first matchup between the teams this season 103-93 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse back in November, but that came against a Cavs team that was without the services of LeBron James, who will be in the lineup on Wednesday. After hitting a skid in January, Cleveland is on their own hot streak, having won five of their last six.

Tip-off from Indy is set for shortly after 7 p.m. EST and the game can be seen on FS-Indiana.

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