A potential and perhaps likely first-round playoff opponent stormed into Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday, and before the Dallas Mavericks departed, taking with them a stunning 109-86 victory, they displayed the one thing they still have that could keep the Thunder awake at night in a seven-game series.
Pinpoint 3-point shooting.
Dallas drilled 13 of 24 3-pointers against a Thunder defense that took two steps back Sunday. The Mavs rained 3s in transition, off brilliant ball movement, slow contests and by, worst of all, casually walking into them.
Each make stung a little more than the previous one because each one exposed what’s become a sizable hole in the Thunder’s defense.
Over the last 10 games, the Thunder has allowed 11.5 made 3-pointers on average. Teams are shooting a scorching 44.6 percent on OKC over that same span. Sunday was the fourth time in the past 10 games that the Thunder gave up exactly 13 3-pointers. The Lakers did it twice in five days, and the Clippers also joined the club.
With a sound plan to find the open man via simple ball movement, Dallas took its turn, picking apart the Thunder from the beginning. The Mavs were 7-for-14 from 3-point range at halftime. They then made their first four attempts in the third quarter, the first coming just 57 seconds in. The deep bomb by Dirk Nowitzki forced a disgusted Scott Brooks to call an uncharacteristically early timeout. His team trailed by 14.
Thirty seconds later, Jose Calderon splashed in another 3 for the Mavs.
Five different Mavericks made at least one 3-pointer, with Calderon and Vince Carter leading the way with four apiece. Their team-wide attack allowed them to make up for relatively quiet nights from Nowitzki (17 points on 6-for-12 shooting) and Monta Ellis (nine points on 2-for-7 shooting).
“We wanted to keep the ball hopping,” said Nowitzki. “We didn’t really want it to stay on the strong side too much. And it helps if you shoot the 3-ball like that. They were switching some. They were showing some in our pick and rolls. That meant the weak side pass was there. And we had a good night from 3.”
That sharpshooting also showed why the Mavs, even as the Thunder’s best-case scenario for a first-round matchup, could still put up a pretty good postseason fight and prevent a quick four-game exit against the Thunder.