A win on the road against Dallas is probably cathartic enough for this Thunder team, no matter how it comes. And that’s good, because OKC’s 95-86 win Wednesday over the Mavericks was pretty ugly for long stretches.
But chalk up some of that to some fantastic interior defense by the Thunder, who used a record-setting performance from Serge Ibaka to bring the kind of intimidating defending that can lead to some discombobulated, ragged offense. Ibaka had 10 blocks, the most by a Thunder player since the franchise arrived in Oklahoma City, and OKC harassed Dallas into 36 percent shooting on the night.
The power forward position dominated the night for the Thunder. Ibaka had an off shooting night, but paired 11 rebounds with his blocks for a double-double and was a force all night. Nick Collison was his usual active self in relief. Kevin Durant played a lot of four when the Thunder went small, and he’s Kevin Durant. But both Ibaka and Collison made the difference for Oklahoma City by playing Dirk Nowtizki tough. Dirk shot a miserable 2-15 and got to the line only four times for eight points on the night.
Some of it was undoubtedly pure cold shooting by Nowitzki. He was 0-5 from deep and missed open looks he usually knocks down. He was able to get good looks with that one-legged turnaround. They just didn’t fall. But credit Ibaka and Collison for making him work, knocking him off his rhythm an making it the kind of night when Dirk just didn’t feel right shooting the ball. Maybe there’s lingering problems with his knee, who knows. But there was a hand in Nowitzki’s face most of the night, and you could tell the Mavs weren’t going to crawl back in the second half without him.
In a way, the disappointing thing for Oklahoma City was that it was a close game at all. When your opponent shoots below 40 percent, you should expect to win big. But the Thunder struggled to only 41 percent shooting themselves and continued to look erratic in the half court for long stretches, despite a ho-hum (for OKC) 14 turnovers on the night, matching Dallas’ total.
That’s a big part of why this win probably isn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been for Oklahoma City. It was good to see the Thunder fight back from a first half deficit to lead by up to 10 points in the fourth quarter, and hold off the Mavericks after they closed to tie the game late. But it would have been even better had the Thunder finished it out with sharp offensive half court execution, the kind of plays that win games late in the postseason, instead of relying on more shot-making on that end to go with defensive willpower.
Seeing the effortless ball movement even from a shorthanded Mavericks team always tantalizes when you think about OKC. And when the Thunder shows its potential in bursts, it makes your mouth water. But Oklahoma City still couldn’t really run plays to get Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden shots in the flow of the offense late in the game. The critical baskets down the stretch came from two Westbrook jumpers, one a 3-pointer, and a Durant fallaway. It worked. It was great to see. It was a confidence-building win. But shot-making won’t always be the answer.
But maybe the best thing to take away from the game is that the Thunder found a way to win against the so-called “big brother” opponent, at least in Jason Terry’s eyes, despite a change in the routine. Scott Brooks’ decision to start Daequan Cook over James Harden didn’t pay obvious dividends, as both players had offensive nights well below their capabilities. But the second unit did have at least a little bit of its rhythm back, and Cook and Harden mostly did their job on a strong night of team defense. At least it broke the “can’t win without Thabo Sefolosha” hex.
Oh, and don’t forget 33 points from Westbrook. Not the best shooting night, but he hit three critical jumpers late in the game, two in the most important stretch of the game. Durant had a below-average shooting night but also rose to the occasion.
Let there be no doubt. Seeing the Thunder make the plays down the stretch against Dallas is sweet. Bouncing back from a tough loss to the Clippers that had SportsCenter fallout is impressive. But the Thunder still has work to do if they truly want to feel good about facing the Mavericks in the playoffs again, especially when Dallas is at full strength.
- The Mavs were missing Jason Kidd, Lamar Odom and Brendan Haywood. Odom and Haywood were late scratches — Odom with a stomach virus and Haywood with back issues.
- It was obvious right away this wouldn’t be OKC’s best night in the half court. It took three and a half minutes before the first Thunder bucket, a jumper by Cook.
- Yi just looks cool on the back of a jersey.
- Serge’s most fun defensive sequence of the night ended up getting ruined. Ibaka blocked Delonte West on two shots during the same possession. Then Jason Terry hit an and-one to finish it.
- I really dislike the old guy who sits courtside on the near-left side of the screen who uses those bright clapper things. He’s just annoying. He comes to games in Oklahoma City and brings his clappers and wears hideous jackets and it offends me.
- Harden’s alley oop to Westbrook in the first half was one of those moments that makes me think of how crazy it is that Russell could barely dunk his senior year of high school. The man is a ball of fire.
- The last eight or so minutes of the second quarter, for the most part, was the only long stretch of consistently good basketball to watch. There were a couple of sloppy turnovers — the Thunder were involved, after all. But it felt like two good teams trading punches for the first time in the game. First time since the Dec. 29 game in Oklahoma City, really, because the Thunder didn’t acquit themselves well in the first game in Dallas this year.
- I think it will take Westbrook a week to get over a bad out-of-bounds call before a media timeout late in the third. The Mavs clearly touched the ball last, and I know that kind of thing kills Westbrook to his core. The injustice! He complained to the official, but, alas, to no avail.
- So Rick Carlisle got ejected after he kicked a ball that ricocheted into some lady’s head. Carlisle picked up his first technical after a no-call on a drive by West into Ibaka in the fourth quarter, though Ibaka looked straight up and down on his jump to me. The second came on the kicked ball. Westbrook had a dunk in transition, and the ball bounced Carlisle’s way. Looked like he kicked it without thinking about it, and it hit behind the basket and bounced into a lady’s head. He went over to apologize on his way to the locker room. Might as well get his checkbook out, because that’s going to be a fine. Terry Stotts, a former head coach himself, finished the game for Dallas.
- For what it’s worth, the wife thinks Brendan Wright looks like this guy.
- My love for Nick Collison can be explained by watching one sequence in the fourth quarter. On defense, Collison jumped out on a screen to make Terry run wide enough for his man to catch up, and Terry almost lost his handle. Collison recovered in time to defend an eventual entry pass to Nowitzki, get a hand in his face on the turnaround jumper and alter the shot. Then on offense, he did the patented roll to the basket after setting a screen for Harden and dropped in two points. Sweet, sweet music.
- Ibaka was just incredible. Forty minutes, almost every one of them impactful. And this is a guy who plays around 20 minutes some nights. What helped the most, it seems, is that he got going early. Serge seems to be streaky like a shooter. When he gets a block and a couple of tough boards early in the game, he’s locked in. And that’s what happened in Dallas. Ibaka is putting together a nice stretch of games in 2012.
- The new NBA Rajon Rondo commercial is sick, just like KD’s.
- The Mavs started 3-25 in second half. And that’s why this game shouldn’t have been as close as it was.
- Shawn Marion ran away from KD when Durant had a clear dunk on the fast break. Kendrick Perkins didn’t run away when he got posterized by Blake Griffin. Some guys run away, and some guys don’t.
- Not a single minute tonight for Nazr Mohammed. First time this year. Why no Cole Aldrich even at all? It’s clear Brooks is moving away from Mohammed. But it’s not clear why Aldrich isn’t getting the minutes instead.
- Roddy Beaubois had four assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes, but shot only 3-13. He was a victim of a few unkind bounces after cutting to the rim, but really, it’s not often I watch him play and really think the Thunder screwed up with the Byron Mullens draft day trade. Guys like Beaubois come along often enough. So when you have two highly rated prospects and one is seven feet tall, you go with the seven footer. … Wait, what’s that about Greg Oden and KD? Nevermind.
- If it wasn’t for Wright and Terry, the Mavs may not have been in this game late despite the Thunder insisting on missing enough shots to keep Dallas in the game. They were 11-15. The rest of the team was 19-69. Yikes.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night via ThunderBDsays: Coach Brooks says, “Phooey and Poppycock!!!”
Next up: Memphis at home at 7 p.m. Friday