“It might be up there,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook rated Ibaka's performance. “I've seen him do it many times for us. His first year against the Lakers, this was right up there with that. But that's what he does. As long as he continues to do that it's going to be hard to score on us.”
It didn't take long for the Mavs to learn as much.
After a sizzling start in which Dallas made 13 of 19 shots (68.4 percent) in the opening quarter to take a 29-21 lead after one, the Thunder's defense came alive. Ibaka ignited it with four blocked shots in the second period. He set the tone with two straight rejections on driving layup attempts by reserve Mavs guard Delonte West and turned the tide for good with his third rejection.
Making his first career start in place of Haywood, center Ian Mahinmi attempted to score from inside on a series of post moves against Ibaka. But Ibaka sent the shot attempt back, triggering a Thunder fast break led by James Harden. Eight seconds later, Harden hooked up with Westbrook on an alley-oop that highlighted a 21-11 spurt that put OKC on top 42-40.
“That was a great sequence,” Westbrook said. “James, supposedly, said he saw it the whole way. But it was a great job by Serge and James made a great pass. Whatever we may need to get us going, or to get everybody hyped up about playing defense, we need that.”
The Thunder held the Mavs to a 14-point third period on 3-for-19 shooting. The stingy defense continued in the final frame, as OKC limited Dallas to a 20-point fourth quarter in which the Mavs shot just 5-for-19. Dallas' 34 second-half points set a new opponent low for points in the second half.
Oh yeah, and Nowitzki, who has struggled against everyone except the Thunder this season, finished with only eight points on 2-for-15 shooting.
“Take away the first quarter and we played some of our best defense of the year,” Brooks said. “We really got after the ball. We fought through screens. We contested their shots, and we rebounded the basketball. We couldn't ask for better effort and execution.”