What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Thank goodness it's over. The Thunder came into the game facing the team that ended their season last year, and that team was missing three of its top seven rotation players. Despite being shorthanded, the Mavericks still led after one quarter and remained competitive throughout. As the game wore on, those nagging memories of last season began to resurface as to whether the Thunder could close out the game with a win. Even as the Thunder went up by 10 early in the 4th, those thoughts did not cease and soon the Mavericks had tied the game at 85.
As opposed to last season though, the Thunder did not completely lose their focus. Despite being caught by the shorthanded Mavs, the Thunder went on a 10-1 run over the final two minutes to close out the game.
What was tonight's turning point?
The turning point tonight was during halftime when the Thunder finally realized that outside of Jason Terry, the Mavs had nobody else who could consistently score. OKC came out in the 3rd quarter and played exceptional defense, holding the Mavs to only 14 points in the quarter. The Thunder went from being three points down at the half to being up by five heading into the 4th. Given the Mavs' offensive struggles, this reversal of leads proved to be decisive.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
I'd like to give the game ball to Serge Ibaka. Yes, Russell Westbrook muscled his way to 33 points including a holy swagger level 3-point dagger in the final minute of the play, but Ibaka was really the man that led the stalwart defensive effort. Despite only scoring four points in the game, Ibaka played his best defensive game of the season by protecting the rim. In total, Ibaka had 10 blocks on the night and was the most important player the Thunder had in protecting the paint.
What's the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
As we alluded to in the preview, it was defense and rebounding. The Thunder's offense wasn't pretty tonight, but even they themselves realized it didn't have to be. They just had to keep Dallas from getting easy shots and second chance opportunities. Overall, the Thunder held the Mavericks to only 86 points on 35.7% shooting, which included allowing the Mavs to only score 34 points after the break. On the boards, the Thunder out-rebounded Dallas 55-44 overall and 15-10 on the offensive glass.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The game means that they didn't lose to a team that should not have beaten them. OKC did overcome a small hurdle though, because mentally I think Dallas still has their number. Beating Dallas, shorthanded as they were, helps push back against that mental advantage. Lastly, the Thunder remembered that they can play very good defense, an ability which is always at their disposal even when the offensive well runs dry.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 33 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, one dagger 3-pointer
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 11 rebounds, 10 blocks
Thunder Blunder: Thunder offense
Thunder Plunderer: Jason Terry, 25 points, 3 assists, 2 steals
Next Game: At the Memphis Grizzlies, Friday February 3, 7:00 PM Central Standard Time