The Ford Center sat on the edge of its collective seat. The entire arena was on pins and needles. It hung in the balance. Some of the tensest, most exciting moments of the season were happening right in front of the sellout crowd. The crowd rose to its feet with 20 seconds left as Kevin Durant drove right and floated a runner at the rim. It dropped and everyone went ballistic.
No, no, the Thunder had the game in hand already, up 11 at that point. But KD had just 23 points and time was running out with the streak in jeopardy. And while Durant extended his streak of 25-plus point games to 26, more importantly Oklahoma City kept its alive too, pushing it to seven with a 99-86 win over the Mavericks.
And while yes, Durant’s streak is neat, the fact the Thunder rebounded after a lackluster first quarter where they scored just 16 points and at one point trailed by 12, to come back and hold Dallas to only 11 third quarter points and run away with the game in the fourth says pretty loud and clear that this group is focused and ready for the second half. Forget about All-Star distractions or complacency. They’re still as hungry as ever.
This was actually one of Durant’s best and worst games of the season. He had the 25 points, but was a very un-Durantula like 9-28 from the floor, 2-7 from 3 and missed three times at the charity stripe. But at the same time he defended well the entire night, pulled down 14 rebounds and had three big time blocks. But the gold star of the night has to go to Jeff Green. After Dirk started the game hot, scoring in bunches off the jumper early, Green absolutely locked down on the German. Nowitzki finished with 24 points on 9-22 shooting and wasn’t a factor at all down the stretch. Dirk was visibly frustrated with Green’s pesky defense. And in the end, Uncle Jeff’s lockdown was what essentially won the game for Oklahoma City.
If Green gets the gold star, James Harden gets the silver. He rocked the headband tonight and it worked for him. Harden had 17 points, five rebounds, six assists, was 3-4 from deep and played 31 huge minutes. When OKC streaked in the second quarter, Harden had 10 and hit a big time 3 right before halftime. I’d say this was one of Jimbo Slice’s finest outings of the season. And a perfect example of why he’s so valuable. He can be that second scorer when Durant isn’t hitting and Westbrook/Green can’t pick up the slack. In fact, maybe even by the end of the season I could see Harden just taking on that role period and not even worrying about the proverbial “stepping up”.
Three huge things to point out: 1) OKC scored a season-high 40 points in the second quarter. 2) Dallas scored only 11 points in the third and had just five with 1:51 left in the period. And 3) The Mavericks shot 32.3 percent from the floor. They saw the ball go through the hoop only 30 times. That’s astounding defense. Russell Westbrook was great on Jason Kidd, James Harden’s defense was strong on Jason Terry and Caron Butler and Nick Collison played monster minutes off the bench. All in all, just a wonderful team victory.
- I was at the game and didn’t hear why Jeff Green’s hand was bandaged, but it was clearly bothering him. He shielded it from every high-five and rarely used it off the dribble. He still had a nice game offensively though – 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks, including a very nice one on Caron Butler.
- I love how everyone knew about Durant’s streak being in danger. He knew. His teammates knew. The crowd knew. He had 22 with a minute left and he stepped back over the 3-point line and totally forced a 3. Then after getting fouled and making one of two, he got an iso play and everyone cleared out for him. Not to be Overanalytical Sportswriter here, but I just hope this thing doesn’t become a distraction at some point. I love the streak as much as anyone (as evidenced by my ridiculous jubilation over KD keeping it alive), but I don’t want it to be something he’s forcing shots for. I don’t think that will happen, I’m just saying.
- On that note, can we get 82Games to count KD’s runner as a “clutch shot”. It may have been in garbage time, but you can’t tell me that Durant didn’t feel some pressure there. I’m only half kidding about this.
- Westbrook turned in another most excellent game. On 6-11 shooting he notched 17 points, had eight assists (including some of the very pretty no-look variety) and pulled down six boards. I’m getting antsy about that triple-double though. He’s been flirting with it a lot lately.
- Serge Ibaka and Brendan Haywood got into a bit on the block during a Maverick free throw attempt. There was a little hand-fighting going on and when the shot went up, Haywood jabbed his knee into Ibaka’s backside, sort of goosing him. Then Ibaka picked up a technical after giving Butler a little smack in the face. I kind of like how Serge isn’t afraid to play enforcer and mix it up.
- In his Dallas debut, Butler went 4-16 for just 13 points. A lot of that had to do with Thabo, but even moreso with James Harden. This was easily one of Harden’s best defensive games.
- I do think OKC caught Dallas at a good time. With a bundle of new players, there’s a feeling-out period. Butler showed up and was starting. He had to fit into the offense, was surely pressing some and probably didn’t know some of the defensive calls Dallas uses. Plus, every Maverick was probably more hungover from All-Star Weekend than any other team. They were pretty busy last weekend.
- Give Shawn Marion a lot of credit with how he defends Durant. It’s no coincidence that two of KD’s worst shooting nights came against him. Marion is strong, never gives KD any room to breath and stays right on his hip off every screen.
- I liked Scott Brooks’ quote after the game on KD’s streak: “I’m not real concerned with streaks. I understand he’s scored 25 points in a lot of games in a row. The streak that I’m really concerned with is how many stops can we get in a row.” Now that’s a defensive minded coach right there.
- Only nine turnovers for OKC tonight and Dallas had just four points off them. Durant only had one.
- The Thunder registered 10 blocks. In the second quarter, I think they blocked like four from behind. At one point, Jason Terry had a good look and actually glanced over his shoulder mid-shot because OKC had gotten into his head with the swats.
- Scott Brooks is letting the hair grow a little. It’s over the ears now. Maybe it’s a streak thing. Smart man. If that’s the case, I hope it’s touching his shoulders by the end of the season.
- I have never heard a Midfirst halfcourt shot contestant get booed but it happened tonight. Poor guy launched his halfcouter and literally missed by 30 feet. It was low, very short and very flat. An ugly attempt all around.
- The Thunder bench is really what won this one. Collison had nine rebounds and three blocks, Harden 17 points, Ibaka five rebounds and Maynor four assists. Compare that to Dallas who only had three guys score off its bench.
- OKC is now 10 games over and alone at fifth in the West and only a half game behind Dallas for fourth.
What a great way to kick off the second half. I worried about the team losing some focus and with the way the game started, it looked like that was happening. But a 40-point explosion in the second quarter, some incredible defense and a ton of effort got this done. The atmosphere at the Ford Center was absolutely electric too. When Westbrook dropped off that fast break pass to Durant for a huge, soaring dunk, the place erupted as if it was a buzzer-beating game winner. I have a feeling we’re going to get crazy crowds like this pretty much the rest of the way. The Skirvin isn’t the only thing opposing teams should be scared of anymore.
Next up: At New York Saturday night. Ugh. Three more days off.