What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The Oklahoma City Thunder cruised their way to a convincing 12 point win over the Dallas Mavericks, 88-76. The Mavericks were without Dirk Nowitzki, who is sidelined until December, and his absence showed up in the box score. The Thunder, playing their full five starters, had little trouble pushing out into a double-digit lead and stayed there almost throughout. The score is much closer than this game actually was; OKC was never seriously threatened and it was clear that they just wanted to work out some things and then go home with a healthy squad.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant, who scored 18 points on the night, and Serge Ibaka, who scored 15. I really like how Ibaka has been used during this preseason. One of the biggest knocks against him last year was that he would drift in and out of games, but in this preseason we can see that his teammates are actively trying to get him into position to score, both in the post and on the perimeter. If OKC can unleash Ibaka as a consistent threat, it makes their elite offense all the more dangerous.
The Thunder made it through the preseason and got everyone healthy while nobody apparently got hurt, so above all else, we should be satisfied with that.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
I don't want to be too hard on Mavericks fans because I know they're already dreading the first 2-3 months of the season, but without Dirk there just isn't a whole lot there. The Thunder win was more about what Dallas does not have than anything else.
Elton Brand is a shadow of his former self, relegated to spot-up jumpers and opportunistic put-backs. I don't see him having a material impact on Dallas' season. The Mavs shot only 37.3% from the floor, including 3-16 from 3-point range. Only two players reached double figures. The lone bright spot was rookie Jae Crowder, who scored 21 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in the game. He's a little bit too eager to shoot sometimes, but I really liked how his offensive game looked against poor odds. Hopefully he and Dirk will be able to build some chemistry as we roll into the new year.
For the Thunder, they did the things that they had to do to remain in front. OKC rebounded the ball extremely well, winning the battle of the boards, 51-40. Serge Ibaka in particular has shown growth in this area, as he grabbed a team high 5 offensive rebounds. The team once again did a great job distributing the ball to open shooters, as OKC tallied 26 assists on the night. Russell Westbrook led the way with 6, and Kevin Durant and James Harden had 5 apiece.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
As we have oft repeated, one of the biggest keys to managing games against poor teams is by controlling the glass. The Thunder did a great job of that tonight, gathering up 51 total rebounds, 14 of which were offensive. The lone blemish on a solid rebounding night was that OKC allowed Dallas center Bernard James to grab 5 offensive rebounds. However, even with those additional shot attempts, the Thunder defense was sound enough to hold Dallas to a very poor shooting night.
Key to OKC's defensive effort was the play of their starting backcourt. Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha held Dallas' backcourt of O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones to a combined 5-12 shooting for 14 points and 4 assists. By eliminating the Mavs' backcourt as an offensive threat, the Thunder made Dallas completely one-dimensional and that dimension wasn't very good.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
Onward we head to the beginning of the regular season, which is now a week away. There are some roster spots and rotations that will need to be finalized, but for the most part we know who the Thunder are, what they're about, and how they're going to approach this 2012-13 season. Championship or bust.
Here they come.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 18 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, zero turnovers
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Hasheem Thabeet, who only managed a bunch of zeroes in the box score in his final chance to impress his new team before roster cuts
Thunder Plunderer: Jae Crowder, 21 points and 9 rebounds for the rookie
Next game: at the San Antonio Spurs, Thursday November 1st, 8:30PM CDT