Thunder 95, Mavs 86
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s win at Dallas.
- The first three nuggets in my actual notebook were as follows:
- Serge Ibaka blows nice Russell Westbrook pass, nearly air-balls layup.
- Ibaka blows putback layup after Kevin Durant miss.
- Ibaka dropped feed from Russ on a cut (not a great pass)
- As you can see, I was all ready to warm up these Rumblings and rip Ibaka a new one. He was that awful in the opening quarter. I was shocked, shocked I say, that Thunder coach Scott Brooks stuck with him for as long as he did. I just knew Brooks was going to yank him for Nick Collison 3 1/2 minutes in. Boy, are you glad Brooks didn’t?
- Ibaka was incredible in the last three quarters. Save a few defensive lapses (my fifth nugget was Ibaka’s slow recovery on a pick-and-roll that allowed Jason Terry to thread the needle to Brandan Wright for a layup) and some blown opportunities offensively, he saved the Thunder in this one. He set a career-high with 10 blocks and grabbed 11 rebounds. He ignited the Thunder’s defensive intensity in the second quarter after it was nowhere to be found in the first. He cut off the Mavs’ seemingly endless supply of easy layups that came effortlessly in the first quarter and struck fear into Dallas’ scorers each time they entered the paint. This was as good as we’ve ever seen Ibaka, matching his Game 2 performance against the Lakers in the 2010 playoffs and his Game 5 showing against Denver last year. As has been the case with Ibaka, the question now is will it carry over?
- Ibaka explained that his big night stemmed from realizing that it wasn’t his night offensively and seeing that he had it going defensively. “I like to get offense,” Ibaka said. “But I feel like tonight, on offense, it wasn’t my day. And I feel like on defense it was working, so I just said, ‘OK. Let’s be focused.’ And the blocked shots were working tonight so I just kept going.”
- Without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever seen or heard from Ibaka is the explanation he provided that he asked off of Dirk Nowitzki so he could protect the paint. Honestly, I wasn’t sure Ibaka had that type of basketball IQ. Not trying to be mean in saying that. I just had never seen anything from him that demonstrates that. This definitely does.
- Ibaka’s 10 rejections tied the franchise record for blocks in a single game. Shawn Kemp, in 1991, and Calvin Booth, in 2004, both registered 10 as well.
- I can’t wait until Seattle gets a new team — ahem, BUILD A FREAKIN’ ARENA, WASHINGTON! — just so we no longer have to include Sonics records in the Thunder’s history. Seattle trolls, save it. We know you don’t want the Thunder to have that history, either. The feeling’s mutual.
- Led by Ibaka, the Thunder got back to defensive dominance. The Mavs scored just 34 points in the final two quarters, an opponent low for the second half, was limited to 8-for-38 shooting in the second half and had just three players in double digits.
- Dirk had just eight points on 2-for-15 shooting. Any Thunder fan who hasn’t been living under a rock knows how impressive that is for OKC. Doesn’t matter that Dirk is having a bad year, or that he’s just three games back from a knee injury. Dirk is a habitual Thunder killer and OKC has rarely, if ever, found an answer for him.
- Durant said Dirk missed a lot of good looks, which I can’t argue with. Brooks agreed, but I liked the coach’s quote: “We finally found out that he was human.”
- Next to Ibaka’s incredible one-man performance, the best thing about this game was that everyone played their role brilliantly. KD scored (although not efficiently) and rebounded his tail off (game-high 13), Westbrook was tremendous throughout attacking and putting pressure on Dallas’ defense as a scorer (game-high 35 points), James Harden got back to being James Harden (though he still struggled with his shot on the road), Perk both defended Dirk well and rebounded well and even scored well, Collison did the same, rookie Reggie Jackson was the steady hand the Thunder needs him to be and Daequan Cook provided solid, yet scarce, offense and some pretty impressive defense and rebounding. Total team effort.
- Harden damn near messed around and got a triple-double. He was just 3-for-11 from the field but had 10 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Best part: he turned it over only once.
- Brooks went with Cook as the starting shooting guard after the monstrosity that was the Harden experiment Monday night. And it worked pretty well. I wouldn’t base the success of that decision off of the 29-21 deficit that the Thunder faced after the first quarter. To me, that was more a defensive issue and Cook’s man, Vince Carter, had only four of those points. Instead, I’d look more at the rotation balance that returned and the additional spacing Cook provided Russ and KD.
- This was Cook’s first ever start with the Thunder. It was just his 27th career start and the first since Feb. 27, 2010 when he was a member of the Miami Heat. Cook told me after the game that he felt comfortable with the first string (I believe his exact words, only half-jokingly, was “I can play anywhere.”) I had another player tell me Cook is a great fit in the starting lineup.
- Doubt we see Cook crack the starting rotation on any consistent basis. Thabo Sefolosha seems set there this season for as long as he’s healthy. But we have absolutely no idea how bad Sefolosha’s injury is. I asked Brooks before the game if he’s concerned that it could linger all season and he said yes. “That’s definitely a concern,” Brooks said. “But we’ll see how he feels (Thursday).”
- Also spoke to Perk before the game about his technical foul issues. He picked up his eighth on Monday and is now five away from an automatic one-game suspension. Perk, who earlier this year said he typically cools it at eight, promised he will now. “I’ll pull back and chill out,” Perk told me. “I do have to chill out.”
- Watching how Perk chills out is a joy in itself within a game. He thought he got fouled on his first made field goal and instead of griping just looked at one official and smiled all the way down on defense. Early in the third quarter, after getting called for a foul against Dirk, Perk didn’t shout at the ref or stare him down. He strutted over to his bench, bent over and barked to assistant Mark Bryant, who was sitting on the second row. In sharing his feelings, Perkins told Bryant, “That’s bull****.” Three times.
- Y’all coming around on RJ yet? Still not? You will. You can see him starting to settle into his role as the primary backup to Westbrook, and he’s quietly gaining confidence again and getting pretty good at it. I can’t understand why so many fear that he’s the weak link to a championship. The guy’s played 15 career games. He is not today what he will be in May. There will still be growing pains, sure. But he’ll get better. Besides, this team doesn’t require much from its backup point guard. Harden is the man in that second unit. All RJ will have to do is not make mistakes. My money is on him being able to do that, while also mixing in an occasional outstanding performance.
- I’m sure the Rick Carlisle incident will be a big deal. I couldn’t see it from my seat, and I still haven’t seen a replay. But ESPN’s Marc Stein surmises that Carlisle is “1,000 percent” guaranteed to get slapped with a suspension. Carlisle started his post game press conference addressing the incident. “I want to apologize to our franchise, Mark, our fans,” Carlisle said. “The incident where the ball got kicked into the stands, that can’t happen. My intent was not to kick it into the stands. I was trying to kick it to the referee, but I’m not a very good kick. But that can’t happen. The officials made the right call on that one. That’s a regrettable situation.”
- Is kicking it to the referee really that much better?
- Figures that after going 0 for his last 75 (unofficially) on his one-legged fadeaway, also known as the Dirk, KD would come into the originator’s house and knock one down. He hit it with just over seven minutes to play in the second. Perhaps not surprisingly, it got much less of a reaction from Mavs fans than it has elsewhere on the road. Guess Dirk’s got them spoiled.
- Brandan Wright has got to have rockets for legs. Homeboy can get up!
- No Nazr Mohammed tonight. I wouldn’t read much into it. Chalk it up to a matchup problem. Brendan Haywood was out tonight, and the Mavs were short on bigs. The ones they had, Wright and Yi Jianlian, are more athletic, face-up type guys so Naz probably wouldn’t have been that helpful. That, or he’s hurt and I’m just an idiot. But I fully expect to see Naz back out there Friday against Memphis.
- Just before the Mavs inbounded the ball following a stoppage midway through the second period, Dallas’ PA guy announced that the Mavs had four seconds to get the ball across halfcourt. I’ve never heard anything like that. Nice homecourt advantage, I guess. I’m of the opinion that the less noise the PA guy makes the better. But for all the stuff OKC’s PA guy blurts out during games, it might not be a bad idea to start splicing in some helpers like that.
- There’s about 50 million other things that I can say/analyze about this one. I’ll save it for another day.
- Up next. At home against Memphis on Friday.
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