The Dallas Mavericks sat all five of their starters. As such, the fully stacked Oklahoma City Thunder were able to smash the Mavs tonight, 108-89. Russell Westbrook had the most interesting game, as he was ejected in the second quarter following a pair of scuffles with J.J. Barea. Westbrook would finish the night with 0 points, three missed shots, four missed free throws, 8 assists, and only 1 turnover. Not a bad night, but only the second time in Westbrook's career that he would finish a game with 0 points. Nevertheless, Westbrook was definitely key for getting the Thunder going in transition early, as well as working within the pick and roll game a bit.
Nevertheless, it's Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka whom were able to step up in Westbrook's absence. After Ibaka was hit with a technical foul of his own during one of the Westbrook scuffles, he went on a mini 5 point run. Then Kevin Durant started to heat up in transition, hitting consecutive threes and then getting his own steal and dunk. It was all part of a 13-2 Thunder run that put OKC up by 25.
I'd like to say that the Thunder never looked back from that lead. Truth is, the Mavs went on a 15-3 run between the third and fourth quarters. That put Dallas within 14 with 10 minutes to go. It was a complete failure by the Thunder's bench to keep the offense going. D.J. Augustin, not seen in a game since December 27th, was called upon to lead the second unit in the second half. Unfortunately, Augustin had very little impact, and the ball struggled to move amongst Morrow, Waiters, Singler, and Kanter.
The Thunder were able to seal the deal relatively easily, though. Kyle Singler was completely ignored by the Maverick defense on two possessions, and bounced in a floater and three. Then, the Thunder proceeded to space the floor. Salah Mejri was a surprise sub for the Mavs, coming deep off the bench to provide Gobert-like rim protection. Furthermore, the Mavs were running a three point guard lineup (Harris, Felton, Barea) in the fourth. So the Thunder had to go to the three, given the circumstances. OKC ended up making five threes within a five minute stretch. They came in a variety of ways. One was a set piece for Waiters. One was a set piece for Morrow. One was Durant finding Payne in transition. Another was Durant finding Waiters in transition. And the last was was the aforementioned unguarded Singler three. That stretch of scoring basically put the game out of reach, and the Dion Waiters show carried OKC to the buzzer.
How did Westbrook get ejected?
Barea was talking and playing physical defense all night long. But what set Westbrook off was Barea's extra physicality after the foul had already been called. The situation crecendoed with 5:16 to go in the second. Barea kept holding Westbrook after the whistle of Westbrook drive to the basket. Westbrook responded in kind. Then, both teams got involved in a minor scuffle. Kanter tried to break up the fight. Charlie Villanueva momentarily had his hand around Westbrook's neck. Ibaka and KD both saw this, and Ibaka clearly didn't like it. This meant a disgruntled Ibaka forcefully went after Villanueva a bit. KD played peacemaker.
The end result was this. A common foul on Barea. Then a double technical foul on Barea and Westbrook for their scuffle. Two technicals (automatic ejection) on Villanueva for the neck. Single technical on Ibaka for his role.
Later in the game, Barea was pulling the same stuff. Westbrook went to the rim, Barea fouled him. Then, Barea fouled Westbrook again after the whistle with a swipe. Westbrook responded by shoving Barea's arm out of his personal space. The ref only saw Westbrook's shove, and gave Russ the technical foul. Westbrook was diplomatic, but the ref wouldn't budge. Westbrook got ejected, and Barea was booed heavily for the rest of the game. As such, Barea was pretty fired up.
Hilariously, when Westbrook was ejected, he was the one slated to take the free throws. Since Westbrook was ineligible, opposing coach Rick Carlisle got to choose the free throw sub. The sub chosen was Mitch McGary. McGary went 1 of 2. The Thunder then played one defensive play with a lineup of Adams-Ibaka-McGary-Durant-Roberson. But then Roberson fouled and Donovan put in Payne. McGary wouldn't return to the lineup until the late fourth.
Another strange occurrence came when Adams and McGee got tangled up in the third quarter. I say it's strange because there's really no way to decipher what happened. Both guys battled for the rebound, fell on each other, and went down like two 7 foot tall tons of bricks. The refs spent maybe 3 minutes watching tape of the play before making some sort of call.
KD played too long, and it's the bench's fault
Yes. It's really disappointing that Durant, Ibaka, and Roberson had to re-enter this game in the fourth quarter. Heck, Roberson played until the final buzzer. I can understand Donovan maybe wanting to get certain players' confidence up. Singler and Augustin, two guys without defined roles right now, got serious time with KD and Ibaka. But with the lead the starters built, you'd expect OKC to weather the storm a bit better.
I don't want to pin all of the blame on one party or another. But here's some of what I noticed from the bench. Payne allowed Barea 6 points in the first half. Kanter was having trouble defending the pick and roll or pick and pop all night long. Augustin had the same issues in the second half, fouling three times within a two minute span. With such acute issues at two critical positions, and no Nick Collison off the bench to shore up the paint, it's no wonder that Dallas third stringers were able to score at will.
- "We don't think about back to back, we think about us." -Serge Ibaka
- Why did the Thunder get so riled up against an opponent that had already waved the white flag? Not encouraging, but the team recovered well.
- I have to commend Andre Roberson's effort tonight. A superb 9 point performance in the first quarter, generated almost entirely in transition.
- Anthony Morrow shot a pretty mediocre 2 of 7 from the field. But both makes were threes, and one of them came off of a particularly impressive sidestep while in the corner.
- Steven Adams had a particularly impressive And 1, where he simply established position against Mejri in the post and scored. Other than that, it was an up and down game against McGee. McGee scored 8 entirely within the pick and roll game. Not terrible, but not great either. Adams can be abused by quicker point guards and bigger centers, and I think we saw a bit of that here. Nevertheless, the Mavs were barely in the lane at all when Adams was on the floor, so I commend him for protecting the rim.
- Aside from those couple plays of sunshine, Kyle Singler was pretty bad. Just clanking shots that look openish and like they should go in. Singler also committed a three point foul....against Dwight Powell, whom has not made a single three all season.
- Fantastic decision making from Waiters tonight. Waiters definitely went into classic mode towards the end of this game, but was the consummate teammate through and through. Nice to see him have a positive game and generate some things for the Thunder in the paint.
- There's a lot of hype about Jeremy Evans and Justin Anderson over at Mavs Moneyball. After they combined to shoot 2 of 16 tonight, I'm not really convinced. They're probably just fed up with watching old dudes. Still, maybe I'm overlooking Anderson's three assists and three steals.
- Payne flowed with the starters really well in the second half. Not all plays were successful, but Payne keyed the offense each time and put the ball in the right spot. In fact, Payne was maybe a bit too hesitant, as he only took two shots in a 6 minute span. Still, you've got to feel confident about him moving forward.
- Augustin's lone assist was a crazy dime to Ibaka. Even in the doldrums, Augustin is a slick passer.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who can go on runs like no other
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, always a stabilizing presence
Thunder Blunder: D.J. Augustin. I'm really not trying to hate but his defense was awful
Thunder Plunderer: Salah Mejri, 17 points on 7-8 shooting, 9 rebounds in 25 minutes.
Next Game: Versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, Friday, January 15th, 6 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!