Pacers bring the "Thunder", then hold on for victory

SportsBasketballDanny GrangerBankingOklahoma City ThunderIndiana PacersDarren Collison

Perhaps across the 94-feet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers saw what they could become on Friday night.

Dressed in a lighter blue than their own, Indiana squared off against the Western Conference's top seed Oklahoma City. They were a franchise that was in the abyss five years ago when they struggled on the court and had to deal with a move from the far Northwest to the Midwest.

But through the draft and some timely free agent pick-ups, the Thunder are considered among the top four favorites to host the Larry O'Brien Trophy come middle June.

The Pacers can attest to having to rebuild through the draft while showing intelligence in free agency after a lull of each in the mid-2000s. Unlike the Thunder, however, they sit third in the Eastern Conference and while much improved are not quite in the NBA Championship talk.

Yet for 48 minutes, the Pacers looked like a team that might be closer to entering that talk than falling out of it as May approaches.

Frank Vogel's team lead by double digits for the most of the night but eventually held on to beat the Thunder 103-98 for their fourth consecutive victory Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Danny Granger led the Pacers with 26 points-including 13 in the second half to fend off a late Oklahoma City rally.

Kevin Durant was impressive for the Thunder, scoring a game-high 44 points while hitting 15 field goals.

A victory keeps the Pacers in third in the Eastern Conference by three games over Boston, who comes to the fieldhouse on Saturday night.

Likely the team will try to bottle the same formula they had 24 hours earlier, when the Pacers kept one of the top teams in the NBA at arm's length. Roy Hibbert found his groove inside, hitting 6-of-7 shots and scoring 16 points in the first half to put the Pacers up by 15 at the end of 24 minutes.

Things got only better in the third quarter, when a Granger three-pointer pushed the Pacers lead to 72-48 midway through the quarter. It was then that Oklahoma City found a sliver of momentum and slowly chipped away at the lead in the fourth quarter.

Kendrick Perkins' lay-in with under a minute left cut the Pacers lead down to four but a Darren Collison jumper on the following possession pushed the lead back to six and sealed a victory. With time winding down, Russell Westbrook hit a trey to pull the Thunder within three with five seconds to go. 

After a quick foul, Danny Granger finally put the game away with a pair of free throws to give the Pacers one of their biggest wins of the season.

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