Wow, what a game. Tonight the Thunder played a game that for me was one of the most exciting games of the season, and may become a very important game in the young team’s maturation process. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant, the NBA’s 4th leading scorer and go-to guy in the middle of the first quarter, on the road against a good Maverick team that is in the thick of the playoff race, and turned in one of it’s best defensive performances in some time.
This game was almost exhausting to watch, especially the second half and overtime. We were up by twelve with a little over 4 minutes to play, but managed to give it back. We had a 14-2 run in the fourth, followed by Dallas going on a 16-0 run of their own. We were down by five with mere seconds left to play when Westbrook went to the line for three free throws and wound up tying the game up by nailing a corner three after a miss and rebound of his third shot. It was just crazy. The Thunder have now lost 9 games by three points or less, and this one hurt like all the rest, but I was really proud of the hustle and no quit spirit.
When I saw that Kevin Durant went to the locker room with the gimpy ankle I wrote on my notebook ” If Durant doesn’t come back, I predict we have a good night defensively and a terrible night offensively”. Well I was half right. It was a very good night defensively (for the Thunder) especially in light of most of the recent games, but offensively it wasn’t too bad. As you can see, our offensive rating was 106.9, which is above our season average, but below our numbers since the new year (about 110). The league average is about 108.
The offense surprised me. True we only shot 41% on our field goals, but when you consider we took our best shooter (and one of the league’s best) out of the lineup for most of 48 minutes, it’s a wonder we scored 90. The Thunder scrapped their way through a serious slugfest. There were 17 ties and 12 lead changes by my count. The Thunder used some really great ball movement at times to get some shots, and used the drive and kick very well as well. On a corner three by Thabo in the fourth, I ran the DVR back and counted 7 passes on that offensive possession. It worked really well because Thabo was wide open.
The reason why I think this could be a very important game for the Thunder’s maturation process is that it is a very young team with a very young core of players. Durant is out, and he watched his team nearly win this thing without him, by scrapping and getting just enough offense, but playing really good defense. Kevin Durant is definitely our weakest link defensively, and I hope he sat there realizing how much his team needs him to improve in that area for this team to take a step forward. It’s not something we really harp on here in the posts or comments, but the Thunder are 8.46 points per 100 possessions worse on defense when KD is on the court; by far the worst of the rotation players on the team. Another reason why this game may become very important is that I am hopeful that Russell Westbrook figures out that jacking up that many jumpers and driving into a clogged lane doesn’t help the team win. He took 32 FGA’s plus 10 FTA’s in 47 minutes. Durant and Westbrook only average 31 FGA’s combined in regular game. I don’t know what his mindset is, whether he was just trying help fill the scoring vacuum left in Durant’s absence, or if he has the green light or what, but it was really just too much tonight. He helped the team so much, but I fear he hurt us just as much or more. I hope the coaching staff shows him some tape and it becomes a teachable moment for our rookie.
As I mentioned, it was a very good night for the Thunder defensively. We held them to 47% eFG and they average over 50%. As a team the Thunder allow a eFG of 51.8 for the season. We are dead last in the NBA in defensive efficiency in the last 5 games (121 pts/100 allowed). Tonight’s 108.9 was a huge improvement. We tied them up on the boards at 52 each (that’s a lot of rebounds) but we took the edge on the offensive boards 19-15.
- The Thunder played slow tonight, and only ran very selectively. I thought when KD went out that Brooks might tell them to run at every opportunity but he did just the opposite and had the team go very deliberate and use all the clock.
- Dallas is really tricky the way they use Nowitzki. They use Nowitzki as a screener and when our guys go to defend they wind up switching, leaving 7 foot Dirk guarded by anyone except who we want guarding him.
- Malik Rose got his first run in the game tonight. It’s been years since I’ve seen him play (how many years has he been buried on the Knicks bench?). He is a really intense and smart (if undersized) defender in the paint. He got right up in Nowitzki and Dampier’s grille. I noticed Nowitzki go 0-3 against Rose on the possessions I caught. Rose was a team leading +10, despite the fact he can’t jump more than 4 or 5 inches off the ground.
- Before Durant went out he used a very wicked crossover dribble and almost broke Josh Howard’s ankles.
- Dallas’s defense was also very tricky. They would slip in and out of zone coverage with no warning at all. It worked really well in the fourth when Westbrook had back to back turnovers trying to drive.
- There were some really weird lineups tonight: Watson, Weaver, Westbrook, Collison and Rose, then Westbrook, Watson, Weaver, Thabo and Green.
- Dirk looked so at ease when he is double teamed. He’s probably seen a zillion of them.
- There was a fantastic play by the Thunder at the end of the third. JJ Barea hit his second free throw and there was 2 seconds left. Rose took one giant step out of bounds with the ball and heaved it about 75 feet into the arms of Kyle Weaver who had leaked out toward the basket. He made the catch and was fouled and put two free throws on the board and used almost no time to do it. Awesome.
- Weaver got his hands on a lot of passes. He was credited with two steals, but he had a lot of deflections.
- It’s not a fluke, Thabo is a very good defender.
- It’s understandable, but it looked at times like nobody knew what to do with the ball offensively. Nobody not named Jeff Green or Russell Westbrook is able to create offense for themselves, and Westbrook isn’t very good at it when he becomes a jumpshooter.
- Russell Westbrook had zero turnovers through three quarters. Then he had three in the fourth and one in overtime.
- Overall the 13 turns is pretty good for the Thunder.
- We held the Mavs to 35% shooting in the second, and 30% in the third.
- The Mavs had only one made three in regulation, then hit three in overtime.
- Our newbie Thabo had 12 points and 8 boards tonight in 30 minutes.
- Jeff Green the rebound machine. Green has 50 rebounds in his last 4 games.
- Westbrook only had 5 assists in 47 minutes. I would much rather him shoot less and pass more if he’s our point guard. However, Earl had 11 assists in 33 minutes and only took five shots. So, I guess, at least RW was shooting so much and Watson was dishing so much that it kept Earl from shooting too often…does that make sense?
Tomorrow night is the Grizz in Memphis.