It's easy to dismiss blowouts such as this one. Sure, the Mavericks normally play well against the Thunder, but they aren't very good. Besides, two of their key players against the Thunder, Vince Carter and Chris Kaman, were out with injuries.
While that may be true, it's ignoring one very simple fact: The bench kickstarted this run.
Not too long ago, I was constantly railing on the Thunder bench for their poor play. Durant and Westbrook both had to see their minutes increase because the bench was consistently losing leads. The biggest change has obviously been the removal of Eric Maynor, who was shooting dreadful percentages from the floor. But Kevin Martin has improved as well. He used to get stuck on the perimeter a lot, but recently he's shown more confidence in driving the ball and getting to the line. Furthermore, his off-ball cuts have gotten more effective as the year's dragged on.
Tonight, the Thunder's bench led the team on a 9-0 run that proved the catalyst for an easy victory. How did they do it?
Step 1: Shutting Down Marion
Marion was almost single-handedly keeping the Mavericks in this game early on, blowing by the noticably limited Durant on four occasions for easy hoops. On one play, Durant literally stared at a wide open Marion, who knocked down a three. When Durant checked out, the Mavericks went small, allowing Marion to draw a matchup with Ibaka. Ibaka immediately affected a mid-range jumper from Marion, making him miss. Marion was noticeably intimidated the next time down the floor, lazily handing the ball off to Jae Crowder, who fumbled it away. Marion was promptly taken out of the game.
Step 2: Solid Perimeter Defense
In this instance, I'd go so far to say that the bench played better perimeter defense than the starters did. Certainly the starters are more talented, but in this case, the bench played smarter. As I said earlier, Durant was slower than usual and looked terrible on defense. Westbrook, as always, gambled a bit and lost his man. Furthermore, O.J. Mayo was able to drop in a couple via his one on one game.
But once O.J. Mayo stepped out, the Thunder were able to control things quite well. Most notable, they didn't pressure players who don't need to be pressured. The Mavs bench doesn't exactly consist of world-beaters, and playing solid man-to-man coverage can be just as effective as trying to get someone to make a bad decision. The end result was no open shots for Dallas and an energizing block by Thabeet in the paint.
Step 3: The Transition Game
If other teams were smart, they'd try to limit the transition game if at all possible against the Thunder. Ever wonder why the Thunder struggle against teams like the Celtics, Heat, and Spurs? Well, it's because those teams don't care about offensive rebounds, and don't let their opponents get easy buckets. In this run particularly, Reggie Jackson was able to swim through the defense for two points, Kevin Martin was able to score on a 3 on 1 alley-oop, and Elton Brand was fooled into a travel while trying to make an outlet pass in transition.
Of course, the Thunder were able to basically go on and outscore the Mavericks for an easy victory. But how the Mavericks scored in the second speaks for itself. Mayo drew pressure and dished it out, and Marion was able to continue exploiting KD. The rest of the Mavs weren't really effective, and the Thunder just destroyed them on the other end with transition opportunities and trips to the line. But when the Mavs are looking more ferocious, or the Thunder are playing a team that doesn't let them run the floor, perhaps a few defensive adjustments should be in order.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!