Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have won a whole lot of games for the Thunder this season with big shots, great plays and huge moments. They’ve turned Oklahoma City into a clutch team, a group that seems to find a way to get enough to win. Some have labeled a two man team, a club that isn’t going to win without big performances from them.
Take that, um, people that say that. Between some outstanding team defense the last three minutes, two free throws from Serge Ibaka and James Harden carrying the Thunder to start the fourth quarter, OKC found a way beat the defending champs despite Durant going 6-of-18 and Westbrook 6-of-20.
The final stand defensively is what sticks out most as the Thunder switched, rotated, help and contested everything from the Mavs. Harden was tremendous on the ball guarding Jason Terry while Kendrick Perkins worked his rather large butt off hedging and then recovering back to Dirk. With OKC up a point within the final 30 seconds, the Thunder forced a tough Terry jumper to which Perk got a piece of and another Terry baseline shot that barely caught rim.
“It’s great to see him have some rebounds and this statsheet looks really impressive,” Scott Brooks said of Perk. “But trust me when I say this, I really mean it: That he does so much for us. Those two switches in stopping Terry from getting to the basket. We had trouble with him. He’s a right-handed player and Perk forced him left and then switched up and went to his strong hand, and still made him miss that shot. That’s huge for a center guarding one of the best guys off the bench.”
It was 91-87 Dallas with 2:46 left after Dirk hit a 3 and took the stance Thunder fans have come to loathe. Four fingers, two thumbs and a tongue out as he lumbered back down the floor flashing the German sign for 3. If the Thunder were to win this one, it had ever look of needing either Durant or Westbrook to rise to the occasion yet again. Westbrook took the first step, answering Dirk’s 3 with his own, then grabbed a wild offensive rebound to create an extra possession. With that, Durant created two free throws for Ibaka with a lovely drive and dish (to which Ibaka converted). After that, it was about stops, rebounds, defense and free throws.
Consider this: With Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry, the Thunder held the Mavs scoreless the final 2:45 of the game. Consider that again for a second, because it’s banana sandwich. Here’s how the Dallas play-by-play broke down those final three minutes: Dirk 3, Dirk missed 14-footer, Dirk turnover, Perk blocks Terry, Terry missed jumper, Vince Carter missed 3. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as clutch defense, but the Thunder definitely found some of it Monday against the Mavs.
Said Dirk on the Mavs finish: “It’s tough. We won the championship last year because we were the best team to execute down the stretch, getting what we want and getting stops and this year so far, we just don’t have it.”
But none of it would’ve been possible had James Harden’s beard not awoken from its three-quarter slumber. Entering the fourth, Harden was 1-8 from the field for two points. And then he just ripped off the Thunder’s first 12 points of the fourth, bringing OKC back from the dead. It looked like another failure of the second unit as with 1:30 left in the third and OKC up 68-61, Westbrook went to the bench and Reggie Jackson checked in. The Mavs promptly went on an 11-2 run to take a lead and looked to be asserting themselves as the Thunder offense completely sputtered. That’s where Harden asserted himself, hitting 3-of-4, including a big 3 to put OKC up 80-78. All in all, the second unit was a -5 without Westbrook, but the Thunder held on long enough for the cavalry to check back in.
“That’s a sign of growth,” Brooks said of Harden’s fourth. “When you don’t see the ball go through in a half and come back in the second half, knowing that going forward that could happen again. And James had something to. That’s great and will give him a lot of confidence when he does have a bad start.”
And while they didn’t close it out in the traditional manner we’ve become accustomed to, the Thunder finished off the Mavs and took the season series 3-1. It’s this kind of growth in OKC’s crunch-time game that is almost as exciting as the big shots and huge plays from Westbrook and Durant. Because at some very important point in April, May or hopefully June, the Thunder are going to have to find a stretch just like this one.
- Lost in the great defense was the massive offensive rebound from Westbrook where he had to scramble on his back to secure it. It’s just his thing it seems, coming up with those type of clutch boards. About it he said, “People just tend to fall asleep. I’m always in a mode to help my team win. I was in the right place at the right time.” Said Scott Brooks: “He just has the will to get a rebound out of nowhere, over anyone.”
- And that 3-pointer answering Dirk. Huge shot from Westbrook. I feel like if that would’ve been KD, everyone would be drooling over him right now. Westbrook never gets enough credit for what he does late in games.
- The Mavs played a zone almost the entire first half and it certainly frustrated the Thunder. But not in a way where they didn’t know what they were doing. OKC penetrated it well, but as Nick Collison said perfectly postgame, the Thunder didn’t pass their way through it, but instead tried to beat it with the dribble, which didn’t work well.
- It was almost like the Mavs played a zone to tempt KD into penetrating it. And once he did, they were going to run a small defender under him to swipe at the ball, or collapse around him. In the first half, Durant had five of OKC’s six turnovers, all of them coming as a result of him being stripped of it while trying to get into the paint to make a play.
- One more thought on the second unit: With Maynor running that group, the Thunder used to have a real weapon, so much to the point Brooks used it to close a playoff game in the Western Finals. Now it’s just about surviving the minutes Westbrook is out.
- OKC won this game at the free throw line. The Thunder made seven fewer baskets than the Mavs, shot just 38.2 percent but made 29-33 from the line compared to 10-10 for the Mavs. I know I’m blinded, but I honestly didn’t see too much wrong with the way the game was called. Outside of one big one: I definitely didn’t see the foul Ian Mahinmi committed Serge Ibaka that essentially decided it for OKC.
- Dirk, not psyched about the free throw differential: “They go to the line 30 times and we go 10, but that’s what it is on the road.”
- The Thunder turned it over just 15 times, and had only six in the first half. Again, KD had six of those, and seven for the game. Westbrook turned it over only once, and it came on a semi-controversial out of bounds call.
- No minutes for Nazr Mohammed. Scott Brooks chose to go small with his second unit instead of just having the straight five-man bench out there.
- A lot more energy out of the gate for Daquan Cook, but he still only got 14 minutes. He did 2-5 from 3, including a big one in the second half.
- Scott Brooks was asked about Dirk’s 3-point celebrations and if they bothered him. He said no. “In order to stop celebration you’ve just got to stop em. There’s no celebration after a missed shot.”
- Nick Collison used Scott Brooks as a prop to show ref Pat Fraher how Dirk was using his shoulder to back him off. It was pretty funny.
- Perk’s defense was the story, but he also had a season-high 14 rebounds. And seven points, including a jumper and a smooth baseline turnaround.
- Overall, great effort on the glass. A 45-36 edge, plus only nine offensive boards for Dallas.
- James Harden finally ditched the wrap on his left wrist. But still went just 1-6 from 3.
- Westbrook picked up his seventh technical of the year. Perk actually only has 10 now, as two were rescinded recently. Westbrook actually had one rescinded too
- Brendan Haywood was injured on the very first play of the game. Kind of wish he hadn’t got hurt though. Because Ian Mahinmi kind of worked the Thunder for a while in the first half.
- There was a new pregame intro video. Sold. Though I think it should just be my ultimate Nick Collison mix.
- Thabo Sefolosha is out of his walking boot and took some shots pregame. He had a pretty serious looking brace on, but certainly a good sign. Also of note: He was sporting a new kind of haircut, the fauxhawk style like James Harden wears.
- Russell Westbrook hasn’t tweeted since Dec. 29 when he just posted “Mindset” following that Memphis game where he and KD allegedly had an altercation. I asked Westbrook about it before the game and he said he was done with Twitter. As for what “Mindset” meant, he said, “You figure it out.”
- The Thunder broadcast was evidently in Spanish tonight for a while. I have no idea why.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “Un tiskit un tasket allí es un defensor en mi cesta!” (Note: I don’t know if he actually said that.)
Next up: Wednesday at home against Phoenix.