Russell Westbrook couldn’t be excluded from the 50-point club for much longer.
In his 505th career appearance, the NBA’s leading scorer erupted for a career-high 54 points.
Only in a familiar refrain this season, his efforts weren’t enough to carry the Thunder to a critical victory Sunday night.
The Thunder may have suffered much more than a 116-104 defeat in Indiana.
As Westbrook was matching the Oklahoma City franchise record with 54 points in a single game, he was whistled for his league-leading 16th technical foul.
If the NBA doesn’t rescind the technical foul, as is often a common practice, the four-time All-Star would be suspended for Monday’s contest against the Trail Blazers.
Midway through the final quarter of the game, Westbrook collided with Luis Scola on a screen and was called for the defensive foul. Immediately after bouncing back onto his feet, Westbrook began arguing with the officials and called for the technical.
Losing Westbrook for the penultimate contest of the regular season would be costly, as Oklahoma City is entrenched in a heated battle with New Orleans for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
Seven seeds have already been claimed, so the final position won’t be determined until the regular season finale Wednesday.
The Pelicans own the tie-breaker between the two teams after winning the season series 3-1.
Nearly 70 percent of the points Oklahoma City scored against the Pacers were generated by Westbrook, as eight of his passes led to 18 points.
From the opening moments of the contest, it was evident the 6-foot-3 guard was poised for a special performance.
His evening began with a simple play, just a hand-off pass from a teammate, a quick screen then a 3-point jumper from 26 feet away from the basket that swished through the net.
By the time the first quarter ended, Westbrook had already piled in 22 points, four assists and two rebounds.
Westbrook nearly carried the team to a win with an encore scoring binge in the fourth quarter.
His breakaway dunk with 7:55 remaining in the contest tied the game at 88.
The Thunder defense collapsed, as it surrendered 12 consecutive points, forcing Westbrook to once again try and claw the team back into the contest.
The former UCLA standout delivered, slicing the deficit down to 106-103 with 79 seconds remaining in the contest by connecting on his fifth shot from 3-point range in the game.
For the game, Westbrook connected on 21-of-43 attempts from the field, 5-of-15 shots from 3-point range, converted 7-of-11 attempts at the foul line, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out eight assists and one steal.
When the evening ended, Westbrook increased his chances of claiming his first career scoring title, boosting his average nearly half a point a game to 27.9 points, .4 higher than Houston guard James Harden.
The uncharacteristic poor performance from Westbrook at the free throw line, as he converted just 63.6 percent of his attempts — 20.2 percent below his season average — was reflected by the rest of his Thunder teammates.
Oklahoma City connected on just 39.3 percent of its attempts at the foul line, an embarrassing amount considering it shot equally as well, as the team shot 11-of-28 from both 3-point range and the foul line for the game.
Westbrook and Enes Kanter, a forward that made 2-of-3 free throws, were the only players to make over half of their foul shots.
The game was equally important for Indiana, as it claimed its fifth straight victory, launching a tie with Brooklyn for the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Pacers (37-43) have mirrored the record of the Thunder (43-37) but still have a chance to qualify for the post season seven though the best possible finish would leave the team two games below .500.
Indiana scored 10 of the final 11 points in the game to seal the win.
Once again, Westbrook submitted a valiant effort to try and carry Oklahoma City to a win, but his career night wasn’t enough.
Now he has just two more opportunities to drag his franchise into the post season.