(Note: Sorry about the site issues during the game. We had a little overload this evening. Apologies for that.)
Kevin Durant hit a jumper to put Oklahoma City up two, 73-71 with nine minutes left. At that point, it was on. This was the biggest of spots for the Thunder. Somewhere they really haven’t ever been. A national television audience. A big game against the Dallas Mavericks. A chance to make a bold statement to everyone. Could they get the stops, could they execute, could they win when it mattered?
The answer this time was no. A pretty resounding no in fact. The last eight minutes Dallas outscored Oklahoma City 29-13 to send the Thunder to their third straight loss and drop them back to .500.
And I’m not going to lie, I’m a little upset about this one. Not because OKC lacked effort. Because boy howdy, these guys busted it. But when it really mattered, the seasoned, veteran team took over and made the plays. The young, inexperienced group didn’t. In areas the Thunder are normally very good, they weren’t. An uncharacteristic 14-23 from the free throw line. A couple defensive breakdowns late. Poor shooting from their best players. Maybe it was the pressure of the night, the lights of ESPN or something else. But the fact is, Oklahoma City just didn’t perform. And I had visions of a big win in front of a big audience to show this team is here and something to be reckoned with. I guess I’m not so much upset with the TEAM, but more with the result.
What’s crazy is that the Thunder were as close as they were. You tell me this afternoon that Kevin Durant is going to go 4-18 from the floor and score 12 points and I say OKC is out of this one early in the third quarter. But that wasn’t the case. THEY HAD THEIR CHANCE. They just didn’t finish.
You look down the box score and it’ll make you want to do a bellyflop into lava. Durant with the 4-18. Russell Westbrook 6-19. Again, the free throw shooting. 4-17 from 3. But I don’t want to hear ANYTHING about this being a Westbrook problem night. Yeah, I know his line isn’t pretty and I know the last five games he’s shot poorly. (He did have five assists and six rebounds to just one turnover tonight.) But when your star is off and your offense is completely stagnant, you’re going to have to look to someone to create. Westbrook never really took a bad shot tonight if you don’t count the last two minutes. He sensed his team slipping and he knew that someone needed to step up and try and make a difference. He tried but just didn’t get it done. I don’t fault him for that at all. He got the ball to the people that needed it through three quarters. For the most part, they just didn’t make the shots. So Russ tried to do something about it.
Not to complain, but the Thunder did what you’re supposed to do. Things weren’t working offensively, so they attacked the bucket and tried to get to the line. The problem? The officials never blew the whistle. That’s not really an excuse because it’s not like OKC would have done anything once they got there. The best free throw shooting team in the league hit just 61 percent from the stripe and essentially murdered themselves from there.
- I can’t go any further without mentioning how good Dirk Nowitzki was. That was a performance. 35 points on 13-18 shooting, 2-2 from 3 and 11 boards. He was just awesome tonight. And you know, I actually thought the Thunder defended him relatively well. Dirk is just one of those guys that can score even if you throw a blanket over his head and tie his feet together. He can just be unbelievable sometimes and this was one of those nights.
- On the Thunder side, three guys stood out: James Harden, Jeff Green and Serge Ibaka. Green is the reason this thing stayed close (15 points, 11 boards), Harden gave OKC some offensive life late in the third and early in the fourth (12 points, six rebounds) and Ibaka gave some insane energy off the bench (six points, six rebounds, two blocks in 14 minutes). Durant’s teammates tried to pick him up, but unlike the Golden State game, KD never came around. This team isn’t quite seasoned enough to win without Durant right now. Especially against a team the caliber of Dallas.
- You know, a lot of people say Westbrook is a bad shooter. From the elbows and in, I think he’s a really nice shooter. The thing is, he just sometimes has to force shots and when he’s not in rhythm or has to rush, he’s off. But when he’s settled and playing in the flow, he’s a pretty good knockdown guy from 15-feet in.
- Let’s just get it out of the way: The Creamsicles didn’t look great. I wasn’t too psyched about the whole team looking like they borrowed some shoes from Ronald McDonald when we’re on national TV. Also, did it look like Ibaka was wearing a crude lookalike to anyone else?
- Listening to Hubie Brown was a ton of fun. I loved hearing his views and thoughts about my team. I feel smarter about them now.
- Serge Ibaka had three unreal plays: The follow-up dunk, the fast break block and the and-1 cram. I may or may not have a situation in my pants right now writing about those three plays.
- One thing I loved about Durant tonight: He never pouted. He never gave up. He continued to work defensively as hard as I’ve ever seen him and he was determined to make a big play for his team. He’ll be back to his scoring ways, I have no doubt. But a game like this tells me he’s the leader that can persevere and take his team to a win even when things don’t go right for him.
- The Thunder came out of the gates with a crapton of energy and looked like they wanted to blow the doors off Dallas. OKC was 8-10 from the floor and Dallas switched to a zone and the Thunder finished the first hitting three of their last 11 shots.
- Dirk’s headband is magical. A true revelation. That’s all.
- There was a really nice sequence before the half: Thabo stripped Dirk of the ball. OKC went helter-skelter on offense penetrating and kicking, looking like they were going to throw it into the third row at any moment. It all settled with Thabo alone in the corner and he knocked down a big 3. Just a really nice series of plays.
- It was nice to see Nenad Krstic’s jumper make a return. Too bad he only took six shots.
- OKC has lost three straight against Cleveland, Denver and Dallas. Is there really any shame in that?
- Just because I feel like people need to be reminded constantly: This team is young. This team is learning. This team is getting better. Nobody thought they’d be 12-12 at this point. I understand it’s easy to be frustrated after losses, but the reality is this is a process. If you’re upset about a certain player, don’t be. These guys are 20, 21 and 22 years old. Most guys don’t really start figuring things out until at least they’re 25 or in the league three or four years. So if you’re standing atop Chase Tower right now, come down. It’ll be alright.
There’s really no other word to toss out other than disappointing. Again, no fault to the Thunder. They tried. It was all effort for 48 minutes. These guys wanted it. They were as hungry as you were. It just didn’t happen. Kevin Durant won’t go 4-18 for 12 points for a long time after this. That happens about as much as Jim Traber says, “No thanks” when he gets asked if he saved room for dessert. I know we can all say that we should be encouraged that the Thunder hung close regardless of that and while it may not mean much, it’s kind of the truth. Durant goes for 16 under his average and the team loses by 14. It’s hard to just dismiss. His team tried to pick him up, but on this night, Dirk and the Mavs weren’t going to let it happen. They’re used to the spotlight. The Thunder got blinded by it tonight.
Next up is a home tilt against the Pistons Friday. Press on Thunder fans. Still lots to be played.