Thunder 111, Mavs 105
Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday’s overtime win over Dallas.
- There’s only one thing I hate more than TNT games. TNT games that go to overtime. That’s completely self-serving, because I’m a newsman and newsmen have deadlines. But I had to vent. Please excuse me.
- Walking into the arena it was hard for me to get fired up about tonight’s game. Even two days after that loss to Miami, that’s all that was on my mind. Because it still mattered. And it will until at least Valentine’s Day, possibly even June. It’s not guaranteed that the Thunder will get back to the Finals. But if OKC does, the Heat almost certainly is the team it has to beat. After that Christmas defeat, who cares what the Thunder does against a team like the Mavs?
- With that said, this was a wildly entertaining game in the fourth quarter and overtime. For the better part of three quarters, it stunk, save a highlight play here or there.
- To be clear, I’m not saying how the Thunder performs against mediocre teams doesn’t matter. It does. Every game is a chance for OKC to take a step forward. But the real test for this team is being able to do it against the best teams in basketball. The Mavs are not that. We’ve seen the Thunder thump its share of second and third tier teams. After what transpired in that Miami game, it’s time to see the Thunder take care of business against the best of the best.
- I wrote about Kevin Durant for Friday’s paper. I had to. He gave me no choice. Durant finished with 40 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and one steal. He made 13 of 28 shots, went 4-for-8 from 3-point range and nailed all 10 of his foul shots. And he played all but 4 minutes, 12 seconds of this overtime thriller.
- And somehow Durant was an afterthought.
- Scott Brooks, for example, didn’t even mention Durant until 3 1/2 minutes had passed in his post-game press conference. By the time Durant had dressed, the majority of the media had filed out of the locker room, apparently uninterested in hearing from the game’s biggest star.
- Brooks on KD: “Is he an afterthought? I could mention him every game. But you get bored with that. Every game you could say KD had a great game and he did a lot of great things for us to put us in position.”
- Durant didn’t just put the Thunder in position to win Thursday. He saved his team from losing. That, in many ways, is even more significant. Consider this. Of his 40 points, Durant scored 18 when his team trailed by nine or more. Of his four assists, three of them also came when the Thunder trailed by at least nine. Two of his dishes led to 3-pointers. That’s 26 points Durant either scored or generated when his team needed them most. This was as clutch as any performance that Durant has had during his time in Oklahoma City. It just was packaged differently.
- Much of the reason Durant was an afterthought following the game was because Russell Westbrook took over. You knew it was coming. Westbrook was terrible tonight, and despite how bad he was it was only a matter of time before he provided a play, or a string of plays, that turned the tide. And that’s exactly what happened.
- First, Westbrook scooped an O.J. Mayo turnover and fed Durant for a fast break dunk and three-point play. Then Westbrook fed Serge Ibaka for a jumper. Thunder within one. With less than 10 seconds left, Westbrook stepped into the path of driving Mayo and stripped him, giving OKC the ball back ahead by one with 7.8 seconds showing on the clock.
- Westbrook on his play in the last few minutes: “I just stay aggressive throughout the whole game. Sometimes shots are going to fall and sometimes they’re not. But I know if i continue to play the right way offensively and defensively something good is going to happen.”
- More from Westbrook: “I just try to make an impact on the game. Maybe it’s not scoring. Maybe it’s rebounding. Maybe it’s passing. Maybe it’s defending. But I just try to make an impact on the game every night.”
- In overtime, Westbrook scored eight of his 16 points and added a rebound and one huge steal. That steal was was the game-changer. He jumped the passing lane and picked off a Mayo pass intended for Darren Collison and sprinted the other way. Westbrook then hit Collison with a beautiful Euro-step type move and scored on a layup. It pushed the Thunder’s lead to three.
- With Westbrook leading the way, Durant didn’t score a single point in the overtime period. “I guess I ran out of gas,” Durant said.
- Westbrook made just 7 of 20 shots, continuing a slump that we’ve seen most all season. Brooks said Westbrook’s left wrist, which he injured at home against San Antonio, has been bothering him. And because Westbrook always is falling and bracing himself with his hands, Brooks said the banged up hand likely will continue to be troublesome for sometime.
- Westbrook was limping throughout the night as well. And Brooks revealed after the game that Westbrook also is dealing with knee soreness. We’re all well aware of Wolverine’s track record with overcoming injuries. But they seem to be piling up on him, and it’s now something to keep an eye on.
- All in all, this was not a well-played game by the Thunder. That much was clear to everyone. It prompted Brooks to begin his post-game comments by saying this: “Obviously, we’ve got some things to work on.”
- Back to Durant. His hustle play midway through the third defined his will to win tonight. After an Ibaka turnover, Durant chased down Darren Collison and pinned his layup against the backboard. Durant corralled the rebound, ran the other way and threw one down on Mavs center Chris Kaman. “That was probably my favorite play,” Durant said.
- The Thunder doesn’t win this game without Ibaka. He was an absolute monster on the glass and in the paint in general tonight. He scored 19 points, pulled down 17 rebounds (eight offensive) and blocked five shots. The Mavs had only two more offensive rebounds than Ibaka had by himself. “He was great on the boards,” Durant said. “One of our points of emphasis going into this game was to beat those guys up on the offensive glass and we did.”
- Ibaka went to work early, grabbing five boards in the first quarter, including three on the offensive end. It allowed him to get easy putbacks and uncontested dunks. In the second quarter, he grabbed six more boards, two on the offensive end. By halftime, he had 13 points and 11 rebounds, his first career double-double at halftime.
- Brooks: “Serge was phenomenal. What he did offensively, defensively, he was protecting, he was rebounding. He was getting the offensive rebounds that we need.”
- Ibaka had two huge offensive rebounds in the final minute that gave the Thunder two additional possessions. With the Thunder nursing a one-point lead, those boards helped OKC milk more than 35 seconds off the game clock. Most impressive is that Ibaka secured both rebounds in traffic.
- Then Darren Collison did this.
- Someone asked me today on Twitter which Mav could step up and torch the Thunder now that Jason Terry and J.J. Barea are both gone. My replay was Mayo. But Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin did a terrific job of shutting him down. Mayo, who entered the game as the Mavs’ leading scorer at 19.3 points per game, had just four points on 1-for-7 shooting. He had six turnovers. So much for that.
- Kevin Durant loves you, Oklahoma City.
- I’ve been wanting to say this for about three weeks. Tonight is as good a night as any to say it, because Kendrick Perkins went 0-for-6 from the floor. Perk needs to watch film on Zach Randolph. Perk would benefit from adopting some of Randolph’s technique around the basket. If you’ve ever watched Randolph play, you know he’s not a high flyer or all that athletic. But he’s nimble and has a soft touch. The way Randolph scores putbacks is what Perkins should study. Randolph doesn’t gather, doesn’t try to dunk and doesn’t keep the ball in his hands long. He barely even leaves his feet. Perk’s problems finishing around the basket seem to come from doing all of the above. If Perk could just grab the ball and use his arms only to get it up quickly, I’m convinced he’d be 10 times better finishing around the rim. Antawn Jamison is another one who is great at it.
- Reggie Jackson is the new backup point guard. He was solid tonight. Not great. Not terrible. He missed badly on at least two shots, maybe three, and that made him look worse than he was. But he knocked down two 3s, rebounded his butt off, got teammates involved and made few mistakes in his 11 minutes. That’s about all you can ask for.
- I spoke with Jackson before the game about the opportunity. I think I’ll write more about him for Saturday’s paper. Maybe.
- Jackson’s rebounding is a luxury. It gives the Thunder another point guard who can grab it and go. I can’t stress enough how beneficial that is. But it’s a part of Jackson’s versatility and the reason he deserved a shot over Eric Maynor. Jackson had four boards in six minutes. It doesn’t take a John Hollinger to know a 24 rebound rate per 36 minutes is pretty good. And it’s not a fluke with Reggie. He’s shown that he can stuff a stat sheet given the opportunity. That’s why it’s his time. Let him get comfortable. Let him confident. And let’s see what he can do.
- Durant barked at Jackson on one trip early in the game for not passing him the ball. It was totally uncalled for and reminiscent of how James Harden used to talk down to Jackson. That’s not going to help build the guy’s confidence. And it wasn’t like Jackson just looked off Durant. Jackson did only what Westbrook has wisely began to do. Go away from Durant if he’s not sealing his man properly in the post. No sense in risking a turnover forcing it to Durant while he’s struggling to hold his spot.
- Jackson’s defense on Dominique Jones was slightly above average. At best. Jackson got beat a few times and it looked bad. But he also stayed in front of him at other times but that’s rarely as noticeable as a guy blowing by a defender and flushing it like Jones did.
- One last thing about Jackson. Can everyone please give the guy a chance before making judgments one way or another? Keep this in mind. Jackson hasn’t been through the NBA circuit a full time yet. He’s still playing opponents for the first time. Players naturally get better as they become more familiar with opponents’ tendencies and opposing teams schemes. Jackson got his feet wet last year, and that gave him confidence. Now that he has it he’s got to learn what’s being thrown at him. It’ll take time. So be patient.
- I feel terrible for Maynor. We all could see that he’s not quite right physically. But this is a crummy way to lose your spot. Get well soon, Eric.
- If I’m Maynor, I’m asking to be sent to Tulsa. I’d want minutes, no matter where given the circumstance. Sitting on the bench for the next 15 games or however long a leash Brooks gives Jackson certainly isn’t going to help him regain his form.
- Brooks played Durant the entire first quarter tonight and didn’t start him at the second quarter. Instead, he trotted out the B team with Sefolosha to begin the second. If that’s the plan again, things could get ugly in that second quarter.
- I would have played Westbrook with that second team and subbed out Hasheem Thabeet. Especially since the Mavs were playing Elton Brand and Jae Crowder.
- I also would have sat Westbrook in the third quarter. He was that bad. For three quarters, he just didn’t seem interested in being here. You could see it on his face. He wasn’t into the game at all. His body language was terrible. It transferred to his game. He gambled. He got beat. He didn’t hustle back. And he wasn’t providing anything whatsoever offensively outside of a few simple assists. But, again, you knew Westbrook was going to do something in the final minutes to make you forget all about it. And that’s what he did.
- Rick Carlisle loves him some timeouts.
- Next to Ibaka’s two big offensive rebounds in the final minute of regulation his best play was his putback dunk with 45 seconds left in the second quarter. He had just missed two free throws but then flew in and gobbled up a Durant miss and flushed it. He broke out the Air Congo and one of his scary screams.
- Nick Collison’s one-legged Dirk needs some work. It was his only shot of the night, so it shouldn’t be hard to go back and find for anyone interested in doing so.
- I was kicking around some things with Berry Tramel before the game. He was trying to figure out a way to get Shawn Marion on this Thunder team. I asked him if he’d be willing to trade K-Mart. He vehemently said no. But after two minutes on the trade machine, I got him Marion. The deal was K-Mart for Marion and O.J. Mayo. Berry quickly changed his tune and had to think on it. My question is who says no? Marion is another defender for (potentially) LeBron James, and Mayo gives you about the same as Martin as a scorer. Dallas gets an expiring contract. The Thunder bolsters its bench and gets a younger player in Mayo to keep around for the future. Sounded decent to me.
- And then I saw Shawn Marion play tonight.
- Watching these Mavs is like watching Father Time take its toll right in front of you. Dirk Nowitzki used to be a destroyer but now is fading. Vince Carter is scoring nine points on 10 shots. Elton Brand is collecting a check. And Marion missed a wide open, pinpoint lob pass from Collison tonight that five years ago he would have somehow windmilled on the catch in mid-air before jamming it. Where on earth does Dallas go from here?
- That’s it for tonight. I’m chatting at 11 a.m. central Friday at NewsOK.com/sports. Come on by and join the conversation.
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