In a game that featured tons of quick offense and small lineups, the Dallas Mavericks were able to strategize their way to victory, 112-107. Dallas was led by their pair of spot shooters, Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki. Parsons finished with 26 points on 10-16 shooting, while Dirk finished with 30 points on 8-13 shooting. The reason for their high percentages is simple. The Thunder went over every single screen and pressured the ballhandler, even Rajon Rondo. This allowed the Mavs to run pick and pop with Dirk all day. Even when the Thunder were able to rotate onto whomever might be popping (Dirk), the Mavs always had an out to the perimeter. There, a threat like Parsons could either can an open jumper or blow past an overly jumpy defender. The Thunder's pressure around pick and rolls also allowed the Mavs to draw tons of advantageous switches.
On the other hand, Monta Ellis struggled on the night, shooting just 6-20. Obviously, this is because the Thunder pressured him every time around the pick and roll, forcing him out of the right elbow jumper that he loves so much. The Thunder are also excellent about rotating to meet players driving to the rim, which Ellis can do. The other two big offensive pieces for the Mavs tonight were Rajon Rondo and Charlie Villanueva. Both of them struggled from the floor, with Rondo finishing 7-17 and Villanueva finishing 3-11. Both of them hit some impressive stuff when they got momentum towards the rim,but couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo when it came to outside jumpers. Aside from one really epic looking Charlie V three that had him screaming at the Thunder's bench.
By all accounts, the offensive failures of Ellis, Rondo, and Villanueva should have been more than enough to open the door for a Thunder win. I mean, OKC had some efficient offensive performances of their own. Serge Ibaka went a ridiculously efficient 11-14, showing an expert knowledge of floor spacing as well as some skill with the jab step jumper. Reggie Jackson was right behind him, shooting 10 of 17 from the floor. The Mavs were giving Reggie all the space he wanted, and once he figured out that he could play a bit more in control during the second half, Jackson was better overall.
Even the Thunder's role players were able to score with ease tonight. Steven Adams and Perry Jones were able to basically take advantage of Tyson Chandler's absence. Morrow did no such thing, but played very within himself and did a great job of finding open space in transition. Even Ish Smith got in on the action, running around like a pinball and occasionally hitting open layups.
Why do you think the Thunder lost this game?
Aaaaaaagh. I'm definitely going to be making a breakdown of his late fourth quarter collapse tomorrow, but for now just know that he let a hot start get to his head. It was so obvious. A couple of easy scores gave him the confidence to just do whatever he wanted, and he tried to take on way too much. Soon as you know it, Russ is losing control on offense, letting Rajon Rondo blow past him on defense, and committing fouls at crucially bad times. Only Russ can manage to go from hero to zero so quickly.
Still, if you take Russ' performance as a whole, you can't help but wish it was a bit better. His defense on Rondo was really suspect in transition, as Westbrook would sometimes torpedo himself on offense or just fail to realize that Rondo was cutting to the basket. Offensively, the Mavs would always make sure to meet Russ at the free throw line coming off of screens. This is Russ' favorite spot, so his solution was to force the issue by trying to find the shot in transition more often. It didn't usually work out. Moreover, the Mavs did a good job of always staying in front of Russ. This kept him away from the rim, and also goaded him into taking less efficient shots out of post-up situations with smaller guards.
The Foul Situation Disaster
But let's not pin 100% of the blame on Russ, despite my unconscionable urge to do so. The Thunder were really put into a hole by the foul situation. It was a really physical game overall, with both teams running very quick offenses. I'm not gonna lie and say that I looked at every foul the Thunder committed, but the facts are that loose ball fouls while the Thunder were in the bonus during the second and fourth quarters cost the Thunder TWELVE POINTS. And ALL of them were scored by Dirk. Somehow, the wily veteran is just able to sell calls, I guess. Meanwhile, Russ was consistently denied calls at the rim. At least, that's how it felt.
I'm not blaming the refs though. It shouldn't have been in their hands in the first place. The Thunder simply weren't doing a good enough job of keeping up with the Mavs in this game, and were forced to foul them in helter-skelter situations too many times. A couple of errors by various big men on screens and rebounds didn't help, either.
Coach Brooks' Folly
I could write a novel about all of the complexities that went on with lineups and adjustments in this game. Carlisle has always been a fan of ridiculous lineup shifts, but Brooks is relatively new to the game. And I never thought I'd see the day, but I believe coach Brooks actually made more adjustments than Carlisle did tonight. Just look at the Popcorn Machine!
But I'm going to focus on the end of the fourth quarter, because everything generally came out tit for tat until then. With OKC down four with three minutes to go, Coach Brooks decided to take out Steven Adams and insert Perry Jones III. Dirk had scored on a a few possessions prior to that, and Adams had rightfully committed a couple of egregious defensive errors. But the switch was a disaster. With the Mavs in the free throw bonus, they committed all of their remaining possessions to attacking the paint. Rondo was able to waltz in for a layup that certainly would have been blocked had Adams been in, and Westbrook had to foul Dirk deep in the paint out of sheer fear. Furthermore, the absence of a center tanked OKC's offense, as they couldn't establish any kind of separation from the locked down Dallas D.
What does this loss mean for the Thunder moving forward?
When is KD coming back? It's so frustrating to watch this team compete with the best in the West without their star. We all know that if KD had been there to balance Russ out, OKC would be sitting with three to five more victories right now. And with every loss, the Thunder are potentially dooming themselves to a really tough first round playoff matchup. I'm not going to say that OKC is in danger of falling out or anything, because I know how good this team is. But the longer OKC stays in this middling record limbo, the harder it becomes to make the push at the end of the season, and the more tired they'll all be come playoff time.
With the loss, the Thunder drop to 15-17 on the year. They are 10 games back of Portland for the Northwest Division lead, and 2.5 games back of the 8th place Phoenix Suns.
Thunder Wonder: Serge Ibaka, who had his best game of the season wasted! :-(
Thunder Down Under: Reggie Jackson, who provided a consistent scoring spark and was defensively on point, despite some TOs
Thunder Blunder: Russell Westbrook. Though I'm also frowning at Andre Roberson and his nasty 0fer.
Thunder Plunderer: Dirk Nowitzki, whom the Thunder will never, ever have a true answer for.
Next Game: Versus the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, December 31st, 7 PM Central Standard Time.