Thunder 103, Mavs 97
Nuggets from my notebook from Saturday's clinching win at Dallas.
- Remember the time when Thunder had no answer for Dirk Nowitzki? Remember when he thoroughly torched your team and there wasn't a thing OKC could do about it? Remember how you watched Dirk demolish the Thunder and could only think about how bad you wanted a player like that? Well meet James Harden. The Thunder's sixth man stuck it to Dallas again in the playoffs. This time he did it while delivering a win. When does Harden get his own "BIG" commercial, NBA? Because that's what he was on this night, and it's what he's been all year.
- Harden scored 15 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth quarter. He added three assists, all leading to 3-pointers, to lend a hand on nine additional points in the period. When the Thunder entered the fourth trailing by 13, the Thunder put the ball in Harden's hand and offered him nothing more than a simple ball screen. Harden did the rest, orchestrating, weaving, ducking and diving around, through and past the Dallas Mavericks to carry the Thunder to the finish line. When the Thunder erased that 13-point deficit and tied the score at 88-all in just 5 minutes, 54 seconds, it was James who scored or assisted on 18 of the Thunder's points in that 20-7 run.
- Kevin Durant on Harden: 'He was phenomenal in the fourth. His pick-and-roll game is unreal. It's fun to watch, fun to be a part of."
- Harden explaining his effectiveness: "Being in attack more. Scotty put the ball in my hands in the fourth quarter and he told me to make plays. So I was just trying to make plays."
- Of all of Harden's jaw-dropping plays in the fourth quarter, the one that was the most amazing was his dagger, the driving finger-roll he put in with 10.2 seconds left. Here's why. Everybody in the building knew exactly what was coming. And still Harden got exactly what he wanted, exactly how he wanted it. That one play was the story of this game.
- Harden's driving dunk with 6 1/2 minutes left was a close second. Once again, he abused Dallas with a simply ball screen, knifed his way into the lane, absorbed contact while protecting the ball and still flushed it with two hands. It was shockingly similar to something LeBron would do. There was grace. There was timing. There was power. Really, it looked like a real-life version of 2K12.
- Speaking of 2K12, can we avoid all reference to Harden as "Big Game James?" That's played. Call him "Video Game James." It just fits.
- This was the first sweep in Thunder history. And what a way to get it. OKC ousted the defending champs in the first round, making the Mavs just the fifth defending champion to fail to win a playoff game in its title defense. This was just the second first-round sweep of a defending champ in a seven-game series. Pretty impressive.
- It was the 152nd sweep in NBA history and just the 60th in seven-game series.
- The Thunder will move on to face the winner between the Lakers and Nuggets. Both will be tough matchups for the Thunder in their own separate ways. The Lakers obviously have Kobe Bryant and ample size to contend with, while the Nuggets have balance, speed and Ty Lawson.
- I'm predicting the Lakers will go on to beat the Nuggets. While the exact date is still unknown, the earliest the Thunder will start its second round series will be Saturday. So because I think the Thunder will get the Lakers, and ABC loves the Lakers, I'm saying Game 1 of the Thunder's semifinal game will be Sunday. That would give OKC seven days rest. That will be a huge advantage for the Thunder.
- It'll be a needed rest, too. Kendrick Perkins was knocked out of tonight's game with a right hip strain. He'll be evaluated Sunday and very likely will be listed as day-to-day. I can't and won't begin to assume how severe Perk's injury is. All I know is that it must have been pretty significant if he couldn't come back. He walked off the court with a pretty good limp and for that guy to not come back says he must have been pretty banged up. But, because of the lengthy layoff, I imagine Perk will be good to go for Game 1.
- So much happened in this game that this can easily be overlooked. But I thought Serge Ibaka's block on Dirk Nowitzki's dunk attempt on the Mavs' opening possession was a tone-setting play. Ibaka came out of nowhere and sent it right back at Dirk and then hit him with the finger wag. Right then, you knew the Thunder was ready to take on Dallas' best shot.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks dressed down a courtside fan midway through the opening quarter. It was sort of a shocking development simply because it's never happened and it actually occurred while the ball was still in play. According to a member of the Dallas media who asked the fan about the exchange, Brooks took exception to the fan telling him to quit complaining about the officiating. But it was the fan's language that made Brooks' blood boil. Let's just say the guy shouted to Brooks to do something that rhymes with "stop snitching." Brooks almost immediately turned and told the fan to watch his language. The two resolved the matter extremely peacefully and respectfully. And Brooks actually showed a lot of class by speaking with the guy again and halftime and shaking hands while coming to a mutual agreement on the matter.
- The Thunder's ball movement (22 assists) was extremely impressive throughout the game, but especially early on. OKC had seven assists on its first nine field goals and did a great job of playing unselfishly and just finding the open man for the best shot.
- The early ball security wasn't so good. OKC had five first-quarter turnovers one game after giving it away just eight times total.
- Turnovers and the Thunder's inability to control the defensive boards early helped the Mavs go into the locker room tied at 47-all. Take away those two and the Thunder might have had a 10-point lead, especially since the Thunder was shooting 52 percent to the Mavs' 42 percent. But OKC turned it over nine times in the first half and gave up six offensive rebounds. Those two things helped Dallas take 10 more shots (43-to-33) than the Thunder. Fortunately for OKC, the Mavs couldn't capitalize much. Dallas scored just two second-chance points off those offensive rebounds and turned those nine turnovers into just five points.
- Russell Westbrook had a terrible offensive game. He scored 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting and missed all four of his 3-point shots...and he was a huge part of this win. Why? Defense. He came up with back-to-back steals at the five-minute mark, the first giving the Thunder the lead for good after Ibaka finished a fast break with a dunk.
- And how about Westbrook giving it up to Ibaka on the break? Gotta love it when he does that.
- Durant on Westbrook: "Russell was phenomenal for us. People probably won't talk about it but his defense was disruptive in the fourth. And he and James Harden's offensive input and Russ' defense is the reason we got that lead and kept the lead."
- KD's six fourth-quarter boards were big. All six came on the defensive end, helping the Thunder close out possessions the right way to claw back early and keep the lead late.
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