About 90 minutes before tipoff, the Thunder already were put in a difficult position when Scott Brooks announced Russell Westbrook would sit tonight’s game against the Mavs as part of his mandated knee management in returning to the floor.
But with the way the Thunder had performed in January and February without Westbrook, there was an assumption that they’d be able to click over to the team that centered itself around Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, and handle the Mavericks without too much issue.
The Mavs led after the first quarter, and went up by 10 midway through the second quarter. OKC trimmed the lead to 43-39 with 4:30 left in the second, but a dry heave 3-pointer from Shawn Marion and a Sam Dalembert layup bumped it back to nine. Another push from the Thunder got it to 50-46 with 2:16 left. But the Mavs finished the half on a 9-2 run taking their lead back to 11. A slow start to the third put the Mavs up 17, but OKC whittled it back to 70-60 with 5:58 left. Reggie Jackson hoisted a ill-advised pull-up transition 3, and the Mavs responded by going back up 15, stretching it to 21 by the end of the third. The game wasn’t over, but it was over.
“It seemed like we wasn’t there,” Durant said. “We just coasted.”
The second unit never made any kind of push to start the fourth quarter, and Brooks gave it one final desperation heave with nine minutes left bringing back Durant and Ibaka, but there was never going to be a run to get back in the game. With a game in 24 hours, Brooks eventually waved the punt flag with 6:16 left, emptying his bench.
The end result: a 109-86 beatdown, giving the Thunder their worst home loss since April 2009, their first season in OKC.
What it appeared like to me was the Thunder reverted back immediately to the team that struggled mightily without Westbrook in early January. This team is dealing with a lot of on floor chemistry challenges; they missed Westbrook, then they figured out how to play with him, then they had trouble reinserting him, then they figured out how to play again, and now they’re back to missing him, trying manifest his energy and intensity. That’s the Thunder’s next issue. They’ve got to sort how to adapt on the fly, interchanging between the team that centers entirely around the Slim Reaper, and the one that plays with a two-headed superstar monster.
Though, Brooks isn’t going to even entertain that idea. The problem tonight, as he said, was that the Mavs just kicked the Thunder’s ass.
“Russell in, Russell out wasn’t the factor tonight. Tonight’s factor was they outplayed us,” Brooks said. “Give them credit, first of all. They played a good basketball game. They moved the ball, they made a bunch of shots. And we didn’t play with the force we usually play with.”
Still: The question a lot of people were asking after this one is why sit Russell Westbrook? If you pay attention to the Thunder, ignore this part, but some apparently were unaware that Westbrook was scheduled to be “managed” during back-to-backs. Meaning, he’d likely sit the first or second of them for the rest of the season. And with the Thunder set to play the Bulls tomorrow, Brooks and the team decided to go ahead and rest Westbrook tonight making him available to play tomorrow.
Now, it is valid to wonder, especially in hindsight, if sitting Westbrook against the Mavs was smarter than sitting him against the Bulls. I suppose we’re going to have to wait and see what happens tomorrow, but I’m guessing the reasoning was the Thunder were in a better position to handle Dallas at home without Westbrook than the Bulls on the road without him.
But with Westbrook out, the Thunder were missing three starters, and started two rookies. As Brooks said postgame, those aren’t excuses, that’s factual. Durant, though, wasn’t biting.
“There’s no excuse. You’ve got to figure it out. We’ve just got to do it. We’re pros,” he said. “We’ve got to learn on the fly, all of us. Got to act like we care, that’s all. We’ll be alright. Got another one tomorrow.”
The Thunder have five back-to-backs left this season. And there’s going to be some learning on the fly to be done if Westbrook sits out all of them. The Thunder are now two games back of the Spurs for the No. 1 seed, and the Clippers have closed to within 1.5 games. Westbrook’s return was a significant boost for the stretch run, but there clearly was some integration time. That appeared to finally be passing, but just like that, back to square zero.
- The Mavs snapped their 11-game losing streak to the Thunder.
- The biggest issue tonight: The Thunder’s second unit was awful. Where have the days of Reggie Lamb gone? Because this Caron Fisher guy isn’t quite as dynamic, or fun. Maybe the Thunder just have too many intangibles and too much toughness and leadership on the floor at one time to properly function or something.
- More on this tomorrow, but Jeremy Lamb needs minutes. Blah blah blah Scott Brooks about there are only so many minutes to go around. Don’t care. Find some for Lamb. He checked in late in the first quarter, playing five minutes, and then he sat until mop-up time in the fourth quarter. Why? The Thunder’s bench was so good and so explosive early in the season. The addition of Butler is solid, and Westbrook being out offset the rotations as Jackson had to start, but a playmaking shooter/scorer like Lamb needs time on the floor. I get the idea of Andre Roberson to play defense first, but I don’t like him playing 24 minutes to Lamb’s 11. The better player needs to play.
- Like Durant said, there’s really no excuse for the effort or execution. The defense was sloppy and lethargic. But still, you can’t ignore the uphill battle the team is currently facing. The organization clearly has its eyes on the postseason, potentially sacrificing games in March to maintain a long view. The playoffs are what matter and losing to the Mavs right now is worth having the healthiest Russell Westbrook possible in the postseason.
- Brooks was asked if there’s any reconsideration of their plan with Westbrook after tonight’s game: “The temptation doesn’t even go through our mind. We have a plan and we’re going to stick with it. He’ll be back tomorrow.”
- Trivia: Three players have appeared in every game for the Thunder this season — who are they?
- (Answer: Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson and Steven Adams. Surprised me too.)
- Mentioned this above, but the Thunder had cut the Mavs’ lead to 10, and were pushing with momentum in the third. Then Reggie Jackson took a pull-up transition 3 by himself. It was a horrible decision. I looked over at Brooks after the shot clanked, and he was just shaking his head saying “Oh my god.” That shot didn’t lose the game for the Thunder, but man, it zapped everything out of the team.
- 31 straight for Durant of at least 25.
- This game had a clear look that Durant was going to need to score 40, or probably 50, for the Thunder to win. He got 30.
- The Thunder took another 29 3s tonight. Only hit nine.
- The Mavs hit 13-24 from deep. Recurring problem.
- Nick Collison explained the 3-point defense as such: “I think the open 3s are a result of breakdowns and overall bad defense. It results because of a drive and having to help and a kick and attacking a closeout and a kick to another guy. An open 3 is a result of a breakdown. Overall we just have to be a lot better.”
- Mustafa Shakur is just a fabulously terrific name.
- In the box score, it says “DNP-Coach’s Decision” next to Westbrook’s name, which makes Scott Brooks look like the worst coach of all time.
- The Power Team was the halftime show tonight. I saw them when I was like eight years old and then I spent the next two weeks trying to tear through phone books and blow up balloons. I never really figured out what the connection between running through a 2×4 and Jesus was, but I definitely remember The Power Team being awesome.
- Obviously I Googled The Power Team, and it reminded me of that one episode of Walker, Texas Ranger when they were on to help some teenagers who were doing bad things or something.
- Vince Carter’s headband makes him look fatter than he probably is. I have no idea how.
- In the second quarter, before Ibaka inbounded the ball, he let a little girl in the front row touch the ball. What a sweetheart.
Next up: At the Bulls on Monday