Thirty-nine seconds left in regulation, and Kevin Durant drills what I would describe as an indifferent dagger. The Mavs sagged off him just slightly, Durant looked around and took a well-if-you’re-just-gonna-leave-me-open 3.
Thunder 111, Mavs 108.
The Thunder survived Dirk Time, forcing a missed 3 with 30 seconds left. But Serge Ibaka mistimed his leap for the rebound, Brandan Wright recovered and kicked to an open Jose Calderon. Splash down, tie game, 26 seconds left.
Sigh. Not again.
The Thunder’s final possession didn’t produce a bad shot, but it was bad nonetheless because Durant wasn’t the one taking it. The Mavs doubled Durant immediately, forcing a pass to Westbrook who took a contested pull-up with two seconds left. Dirk came up just short on a desperation heave from 35 feet and off to overtime things went.
During the commercial break, though, it hit me: Westbrook had already played 31 minutes, and supposedly, his minute restriction was set at 30. So how would Scott Brooks handle overtime? Sit Westbrook and quite realistically give the game away, or add five more minutes to Westbrook’s knee? Brooks went the direction I expected, abiding by the restriction and sitting Westbrook. If you’re going to claim you’re managing his minutes, then you’ve got to follow through and not let the emotions of a game influence you. Tough call, but probably the right one, since they’re claiming this is in Westbrook’s best interest.
But the Mavs started overtime on a 9-2 run, and Brooks did something surprising: He subbed Westbrook back in with the Thunder down seven with 2:02 remaining.
I honestly don’t know what to think about this. Was this Brooks being irresponsible and getting caught up in the moment trying too hard to win a regular season game? Or was that just a terrible attempt to have it both ways, as if the difference between playing all five minutes of overtime versus two minutes is going to be what saves Westbrook from another arthroscopic surgery? Whatever the answer is, it’s not a very good one.
Here’s what Brooks told reporters after the game: “I’m not a dummy. I want our best players in there throughout the game. But the plan was in place.”
So, what’s the plan again? Because we have no friggin’ clue.
There were really only two reasonable choices to make: 1) Play Westbrook all five minutes of overtime, restriction be damned because let’s be realistic — it’s like putting a pitcher on a 100-pitch count, as if facing one more batter and throwing six more fastballs is going to ruin his career. Or 2) sit Westbrook all five minutes, adhering to the limitation you’ve been saying exists. Instead, Brooks hedged and made the worst choice of all. He sat Westbrook to start, zapping the Thunder’s momentum and allowing the Mavs to go up seven with 2:02 left. It was going to take something special to salvage the game after that, with Westbrook, as good as he is, unlikely to provide that. But he checked in for those final two minutes anyway. I just don’t get it.
Look, it was a tough spot to be in for Brooks, and one that should’ve been avoided entirely had the Thunder either grabbed a defensive rebound, or closed out on an open shooter. But in overtime, they really had little chance to succeed as they tried to adjust immediately to Westbrook sitting. The possessions were scattered as it was essentially Durant trying to make something out of nothing. And not helping matters was OKC’s defensive collapsed upon itself, opening up clean looks all over for the Mavs.
Really, it’s not all that bad of a loss in the grand scheme. The Mavs are desperate for wins and have a lot more to play for than the Thunder. OKC was on the second of a back-to-back. And the Thunder just increased their chances for a second draft pick by losing. But the management and reasons for the loss are what frustrates. Which is pretty typical when the Thunder have fewer points than their opponent.
- The Thunder’s final play of regulation was poor. Mostly because it didn’t seem like OKC was prepared for the obvious. You knew the Mavs were going to send the double on Durant immediately once he caught the ball at midcourt. Brooks and his staff should’ve had a set anticipating exactly that, with Durant attacking the help man instantly, with a screen to rub him off. Easy to say after the fact, but the shot OKC got wasn’t good at all.
- Dirk reminded everyone tonight why it would be a bad idea to play the Mavs in the playoffs. He’s still terrifying.
- Reggie Jackson played another excellent game. He got 41 minutes and almost had a third consecutive double-double, putting up 11 points and eight assists, plus five rebounds. He took a bad shot or two, but overall, he’s in a much better place with his game.
- Westbrook was a rollercoaster tonight. He finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, but gave it away eight times as well. He had three steals and one of those patented flurries in the third quarter, but also recklessly attacked the rim multiple times.
- Durant, sick. Second night of a back-to-back he plays 51 minutes and drops 43 points on 15-27 plus five rebounds and six assists. And he defended Dirk for a lot of the night because Serge Ibaka was in foul trouble. The Thunder lost, but KD put in another inspiring performance.
- One more thought about the minute restriction stuff: This is where playing coy and being mysterious bites you in the ass. Initially, Brooks wouldn’t say what it was, but Westbrook said his restriction was 25-26 minutes. He was routinely going over that. Brooks then said they were trying to keep it around 30. Westbrook played 33 tonight, and Brooks said he was trying to keep it at 32. If there was just a straightforward explanation, and actual outline of the plan, we’d probably all get it. Instead, it just seems like this “plan” is pretty darn flexible and often fits conveniently into how many minutes Westbrook happened to play that night.
- Something that struck me: For a guy averaging 32.2 points a game and taking 20.8 shots a game, Durant is ridiculously unselfish.
- I thought the Thunder were about to clinch their playoff spot tonight, which would’ve been cool since they did the same thing in Dallas five years ago and we all met them at the airport to celebrate that. Single tear.
- Nick Collison definitely has the best mope in the NBA.
- Jeremy Lamb got his first DNP of the season.
- Has Caron Butler taken a shot yet where you’ve said, “Yep, that’s in”? He finished with the statline we’re pretty used to seeing so far: 4-10 shooting, 2-6 from 3, 10 points.
- It seemed crazy for Brooks to bring Derek Fisher back in the game with a few minutes left, but wouldn’t you know it, D-Fish was out there knocking ’em down in big spots. After his 3 to tie things up with a minute left, he let out a helluva smirk.
- Crazy thing Durant has only scored less than 25 points 11 total times this season. This was OKC’s 71st game. And he’s score at least 40 points 13 times. So he has two more 40-point games than sub-25-point games. I don’t know if that stat actually says anything interesting, but it seems wild to me.
- One of the more absurd things I’ve ever seen Westbrook do: He finished a Eurostepping wrong-footed left-handed and-1 layup.
- Westbrook, so effective at is backcutting. When the Thunder space well and give him the room, he’s deadly.
- Westbrook, king of the lefty off-the-bounce bullet pass.
- KD reiterated that Dirk is his favorite player, and then said maybe it was a tie with Kobe. I might come back to this another time, but I think there might be something to read into with KD saying he loves Dirk. The career path of Dirk is very distinctive, remaining incredibly loyal to his franchise and committing to winning a title with the Mavs, rather than chase one elsewhere. If KD admires Dirk that much, maybe that’s something to keep in mind.
- Ibaka’s foul trouble really hurt OKC tonight. He was clearly aware of it in the fourth quarter, resisting attacking shots in help defense. There was one possession he essentially let Dirk score on him for fear of his sixth foul.
- Durant made it 36 straight games with at least 25 points. Also, his name is still Kevin Durant.
- The Mavs hit 15 3s. That’s not good, Thunder.
- The Thunder are now three back of the Spurs in the loss column. Top seed is slipping away.
Next up: Friday at home against the Kings