Thunder 95, Mavs 91
Nuggets from my notebook from Monday’s win over Dallas.
- Man, does Kendrick Perkins know how to have a bounce-back game or what?. He followed a subpar, foul-plagued performance at Atlanta on Saturday with an inspired, Player of the Game type night tonight. He grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, scored seven points, blocked a shot and provided two incredible defensive sequences in the final 30 seconds, switching onto Mavs guard Jason Terry and forcing him into two tough, contested shots that both missed and helped the Thunder secure this win.
- The last time Perk responded like this was after a terrible game against Denver in that overtime classic. He came back the next night and shut down New Orleans center Chris Kaman. You can question a lot about Perk this season. But his pride, it seems, will never be one of them.
- Perk’s pride actually mirrors that of his team’s. The Thunder moved to 7-1 in games after a loss this season, the second best winning percentage in the league behind only Chicago’s unblemished mark. Said Nick Collison: “We were embarrassed with how we played at Atlanta. Our effort wasn’t anywhere close to being good enough. So we wanted to make sure we came out with a lot of effort tonight.”
- The Thunder won for the 13th straight time at home, another type of toughness and form of pride. OKC is now 16-1 inside the Peake. Very, very impressive. And with a few cupcakes coming up, it’s a good time to build on that during this five-game home stand.
- Gotta love how the Thunder played through its offensive funk tonight. The Mavs are one of the best teams in defensive field-goal percentage and showed why in limiting the Thunder to 38.2 percent. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all struggled to make shots and, generally, when that happens Loud City turns into blowout city. But the Thunder kept battling. Kept getting stops. Kept manufacturing points. In the end, it was enough to pull out a win.
- Speaking of manufacturing points. The Thunder had 33 free throw attempts tonight. The Mavs had 10. Westbrook (12) alone took more than the entire Mavs team.
- For all the concerns about turnovers and defensive rebounding and halfcocurt offense and this team taking too many jump shots, the Thunder is quickly turning into the type of team that wins in the playoffs. Have you noticed the trend that’s taken place in the fourth quarter over the last month? In spite of the Thunder’s flaws, real or perceived, the team has gutted out wins in crunch time. The Thunder did it at Portland and at Golden State, at home against Denver and the Lakers, on the road at Philadelphia and Orlando and again tonight against the Mavs. That’s seven out of the last 15 games that the Thunder has pulled out playoff-style victories, which are marked by defense down the stretch. In those seven games, the Thunder held opponents to 37.4 percent shooting. That’s downright dominant. Combine that with the trio of Thunder players who are capable of creating offense and drawing fouls and it would appear that Oklahoma City does indeed play a brand of ball that is conducive to postseason success.
- One more note about the defense. In 12 games since Feb. 10, the Thunder has given up an average of just 22.9 points in the fourth quarter. That figure doesn’t put the Thunder among the elite, but it doesn’t put it far off either. Chicago leads the league in fourth quarter points allowed at 21.8.
- Next to the defensive effort down the stretch, the best thing that happened tonight was the Thunder got another taste of Dallas’ zone defense. The Mavs really know how to fluster you with that zone. They’ve done it to the Thunder for two years, and more often than not the Thunder hasn’t responded well to it. The Mavs used it exclusively in the first half tonight and it held the Thunder in check a bit. But it didn’t shut down the Thunder’s offense like it has in the past. It looks like the Thunder is slowly figuring out how to play against it and becoming more confident each time it emerges.
- You could tell when the Thunder didn’t know how to attack the zone, though, when the players started bunching up and dribbling too much. Passes weren’t being made and everyone was just trying to make a one-on-one play. Sometimes, that might work. Most times, it probably will lead to trouble.
- Something I can’t understand. With the Mavs playing zone for nearly all of the first half, if not all of it, why did Daequan Cook play just seven minutes in that opening half?
- Harden absolutely took over at the start of the fourth quarter. He scored all 12 of the Thunder’s points to start the period and helped OKC maintain a two-point lead after it entered the final frame ahead by three and resting KD and Russ. The most impressive thing about how Harden stepped up was he had to shake off a 1-for-8 night going into that period. But he worked his way to the foul line on a series of strong drives and made seven of the Thunder’s 14 free throws in the period. Said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of Harden’s resiliency: “That’s a sign of growth.”
- When Jason Terry missed a potential game-tying baseline jumper with four seconds left, Dirk Nowitzki ripped into Terry and Jason Kidd as they walked the other way for two Thunder free throws. Dirk could be seen clearly saying “What the F*** are we doing?” Durant was strolling right behind the trio as they tried to figure it out. I hope KD was taking notes. Mr. Nice Guy needs some of Dirk’s newfound nastiness.
- I asked KD about that scene and whether he took notes on how Dirk got on his teammates. “Yeah,” Durant said. “He’s a leader. He wanted the ball in that situation. I’m glad he didn’t get it. But that’s what leaders do. They listened to him. Him and Jason Terry have a really good relationship, and that’s what we’re building here with our guys. So if I see something, I do the same thing. It’s all about progression and all about growth with me. I think I’m moving in the right direction.”
- I was all geared up to see how Brooks would handle the reserve center minutes tonight after he stated following Saturday’s game that he didn’t know what he would do with the playing time between Cole Aldrich and Nazr Mohammed. And then Brooks didn’t play either one.
- A part of neither Aldrich nor Mohammed seeing any playing time had to have had something to do with Mavs starting center Brendan Haywood spraining his foot 30 seconds into the game. I contend that was the best thing to happen to the Mavs, but I digress. When Haywood was lost, it left Dallas with only Ian Mahinmi at center. But Perk and Serge Ibaka were playing well, too, so Brooks let them go.
- I found it interesting, though, that in the Mavs locker room before the game Dallas already had Cole over Naz as the second center on the depth chart.
- Even when the Mavs were small, they were huge with Dirk, Yi Jianlian and Lamar Odom.
- I liked Reggie Jackson‘s aggressiveness in the first half. He once beat the Mavs’ zone in the first half with a hard driving layup, and he drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key when he was left open. He also made a gorgeous feed to KD on a drive and dump. You see flashes of RJ’s skills when he is allowed to be aggressive like that.
- Looks like I’m going to have to be the one to tell the Fox Sports Oklahoma crew to cut it out with the courtside interviews during close ballgames. Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire fame sat down with Brian Davis and Grant Long during the second quarter tonight. The Thunder was up 28-25 and yet another meaningless interview was being conducted. Add Bailey to the list of Jim “J.R.” Ross and others who have, for reasons only God knows, joined the broadcast team to serve as only an interruption to what is undoubtedly the most entertaining show in basketball.
- Up next. Phoenix on Wednesday.
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