OKC Thunder face Cinderella counterpart as they host Pacers

OKC Thunder host the Pacers Bennedict Mathurin #00 passes the ball (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
OKC Thunder host the Pacers Bennedict Mathurin #00 passes the ball (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

At season start the OKC Thunder were projected to be one of the main teams vying for Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. It was expected they would dive into tanking right away and they weren’t expected to win more than 20 games.

Similarly, the Indiana Pacers were another team projected to join the tanking effort to win one of the coveted bottom three seeds. In fact, there was more focus on trade packages for Indy’s big man Myles Turner and 3-point sniper Buddy Hield than discussions about the quality of their youthful roster.

It seems almost unfathomable that as of today both the Pacers and Thunder could be playing in the postseason and yet that’s where the teams are positioned.

Similarities between OKC Thunder and counterpart Indiana Pacers

In fact, there are numerous similarities between these clubs who’ll face each other for the first time this season.

Does the glass slipper fit?

Every season there is a team that ends up winning the hearts of fans and becomes what many refer to as the NBA League Pass darlings.

Generally, it’s the team no one expected to perform well and overachieves. Or it’s the squad who are the most entertaining to watch. In recent years that honor has gone to the Memphis Grizzlies, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New Orleans Pelicans.

This season with so much parity the glass slipper has moved around a bit. The Jazz was the early Cinderella team and lately, the Magic offered up reason to try the slipper on.

Yet, the two teams who’ve most embodied the Cinderella combination of overachiever plus exuding an exciting and entertaining style are the Thunder in the West and the Pacers in the East.

Oh Canada:

The OKC Thunder have a strong Canadian presence on the roster. The cornerstone of the franchise Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is from just outside Toronto while Luguentz Dort is from Montreal.

Yet, the Thunder aren’t the team with the most Canadians on it. That honor belongs to the Pacers who have four Canucks on the roster all of whom garner playing time and contribute to the team.

Forward Oshae Brissett is the veteran of the group playing in his third season with the Pacers and fourth overall in the association.

Sophomore Chris Duarte earned his reputation as a rookie when he immediately contributed, earning a spot alongside  Josh Giddey on the All-NBA Rookie second team.


The other two Canadians on the Pacers are rookies from this season, Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard.

The latter was selected 31st by Indiana and is best known for his game-winning 3-pointer against the Lakers and emulating Stephen Curry (in Curry’s face) at the Chase Center.

Montreal Connection:

Yet, the best Canadian on the Pacers was their sixth pick from the 2022 draft Benn Mathurin. Although it seems likely Paolo Banchero will win Rookie of the Year if there is an upset it would be Mathurin whose even been in the conversation for Sixth Man based on how much impact he’s having for Indy.

Like Lu Dort, Mathurin hails from Montreal, Quebec a province that is witnessing an uptick in representation in the association.

Benn is averaging s averaging 17.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. He’s shooting 42.2 percent from the field on 12.8 attempts. His perimeter efficiency has dropped to 33 percent on 4.5 attempts but part of that is tied to the injuries and shifts in how teams are guarding him.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the rook is he gets to the charity stripe 6.1 times per game and shoots an efficient 81.3 percent.

Dort and Mathurin share more than just growing up in Montreal Nord in Quebec. Benn followed almost an identical path prior to entering the NBA. Both players played with Brookwood Elite in their AAU program and both attended college in Arizona.

Lu was a Sun Devil playing at Arizona State while Benn was a Wildcat playing at the University of Arizona.

Stellar backcourts:

Unfortunately, OKC Thunder fans won’t get to witness the Pacers in their full glory because their cornerstone Tyrese Haliburton is out dealing with an elbow and knee sprain.

Much like the Thunder are feasting on teams due to the length of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey the Pacers boast an equally effective backcourt.

Haliburton is 6’5 and Hield is 6’4 not quite the same length as the 6’8 Giddey and 6’6 SGA but equally impressive.

In yet another similarity, it’s very likely Haliburton and SGA will be named to the All-Star team as first-timers via the coach’s selections since neither is likely to catch the popularity votes — Steph Curry and Luka Doncic in the West versus Kyrie Irving and Donovan Mitchell.

I’m disappointed Haliburton is out because I was eager to see both teams at full strength and how they measure up versus each other.

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until March 31st to get that experience assuming everyone is healthy at that point.

As for this match, it would be great if the OKC Thunder could capitalize on Haliburton being out. It’s quite likely several of the teams surrounding the Thunder on the West ladder could lose tonight (or Thursday) based on who they’re facing so OKC should be ascending the ladder if all goes well.

Regardless, these two Cinderella teams should offer up an entertaining match and will be two young clubs that’ll be in the mix for years to come.

Next. A cautionary tale for Thunder and developing teams. dark