Very little went right offensively for the Thunder on Monday night.
Oklahoma City's big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden struggled with their shots, and the team connected on just 38 percent for the game.
Still, the Thunder found a way to steal a 95-91 win over Dallas and improve to 30-8.
“It's always good playing against the best team in basketball. They're one of the best teams,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They've got some of the best closers in the game. It's always good to play against good teams that play hard and play smart and know how to finish games. That's how we've gotten better.
“I thought it was a great character-builder. We weren't shooting the ball very well. Nobody really had a good offensive game going. But defensively, it gave us a chance to hang in there.”
The Thunder held the Mavs to 3-for-13 shooting down the stretch and forced Dallas into missing its final four shots while turning it over twice in the final two minutes.
“We locked in and guarded and we made it tough for them by forcing them to take shots over a hand,” said forward Nick Collison. “In the fourth quarter, they got it going. (Jason) Terry got it going but then we were able to not give him so much space. Kendrick (Perkins) did a great job on a couple of pick and rolls and we were able to fix that problem. Dallas is a difficult team to play. They make you guard for the whole 24 seconds and that's tough to do.”
MORE PRAISE FOR PERK
A day later, Perkins was still receiving credit from coaches, teammates and even national analysts for the defensive job he did against Dallas down the stretch.
Perkins' two biggest plays came on switches onto Terry in the final minute. The Thunder's center stayed with the speedy sharpshooter and forced him into contested shots both times.
“He's one of our best defenders, and now he's showing that he can guard (power forwards). And he's doing a great job of switching out in late game situations on guards,” Brooks said. “He has long arms. He has toughness. His lateral quickness is good. We feel very confident that he can guard players in that situation. He did it against Philly also. He switched out on (Jodie) Meeks and (Jrue) Holiday and he did it against Orlando one time.”
On the Scott Van Pelt show on Tuesday, NBA analyst and former player Tim Legler also praised Perkins for supplying the plays of the game with his defense.
The Thunder has a history of struggling against zone defenses, and Dallas on Monday night flustered the Thunder by using the strategy almost exclusively in the first half.
While the Thunder missed a few easy shots, there were several possessions in which OKC couldn't get good looks.
“Our guys like to put the ball on the floor and beat their man and get to the rim,” Collison explained. “Against a zone, if you beat one guy there are two guys waiting for you. So we have to attack it differently. We have to be able to move the ball more with the pass.
“A lot of times a zone is smoke and mirrors, because they're strong on the one side with the ball, but if we move it they get lost. They can't find people. That's what we didn't necessarily do a good job of is making them guard for two or three swings of the ball. We let them just guard the initial ballhandler and everyone was just staring at the ball. And that's tough offensively to make plays against a set defense.”
BEATING THE BAD TEAMS
After playing six straight teams currently on pace to make the playoffs, the Thunder will now play its next three games against teams that are all below .500 and currently out of the playoff picture.
The best way to avoid a letdown? Use each game as an opportunity to improve.
“I think it's important to focus on us and how we're playing,” Collison said. “That needs to be the focus the rest of the way and into the playoffs.”
Phoenix currently is in 12th place in the West at 17-20. Cleveland, which visits on Friday, is 13-23 and in 10th place in the East. And Charlotte, which comes to town Saturday, is a league-worst 4-31.
“Any team can come in and beat you. We're aware of that,” Brooks said. “We have to just focus and come in and play hard. You have to play hard to win in this league. If you don't do that, you have no shot. And then you have to execute. And we've done a good job of doing both of those for the most part.”
Collison on the condensed season: “This season's been crazy. There's a lot of things different about this year. We're kind of used to it being crazy. We just show up wherever we are, whatever city we're in and try to get some work done.”
The Thunder will host Phoenix on Wednesday night in the second of a five-game home stand. Tip-off between the Thunder and Suns is scheduled for 7 p.m.