In a contest that swung widely both ways, the Thunder were able to eek out a last second victory over the Dallas Mavericks, 109-106. The victory really came down to the skills of Kevin Durant, who scored the Thunder's last points at round the 54 second mark. It was an off the dribble shot around an Ibaka pick, and went down as smooth as ever. Additionally, KD played a major defensive role late, hustling to guard a Dirk three and a Wes Matthews three in the final 90 seconds. This was encouraging after KD gave up some crucial points to Dirk and Chandler Parsons in the late second quarter.
Durant was hitting incredibly tough shots all night. We're talking deep threes. Threes through two defenders. Multiple dirk legs. Running off the pick to score at the rim. Playing the open man when Westbrook is double-teamed. Shooting runners in space around screens. The sick assists were there too. Durant drove and found Kanter on three separate occasions, wide open for shots. Durant even got assists in to Ibaka at the basket, and Singler and Waiters at the three point line. Just the complete package from Durant tonight, despite a couple of minor bumps along the road.
The Mavericks relied heavily on Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams. Both likely because they were initially guarded by KD and Westbrook. But it was a sly move by Coach Donovan to match up Singler with Parsons in the second half, to give KD a defensive break. It was clear that, as a team, the Mavericks weren't expecting the Thunder to defend the three point line well. On the game, the Mavs took 33 attempts from downtown, five more than their season average. And by the end of the first half, it was clearly paying off, as the Mavs were 8 of 20. But the Thunder came out with a new sense of purpose on defense in the second half, and kept Dallas to 2 of 13 three point shooting in the second half.
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Singler's break out game
Against all odds, Kyle Singler also emerged as a hero for the Thunder in the clutch. Singler made a name for himself by knocking down a three and getting to the line in the first half. Then, in the fourth quarter, Singler managed to generate three consecutive defensive stops from the 10:17 mark to the 9:25 mark. Singler deterred a Harris layup on a drive, a Parsons layup in transition, and draw an offensive foul on Dirk. After that, Singler sold a technical foul. Pachulia backslapped Singler, whom recoiled and told the refs. Singler nailed the FT, and sat. Just over a minute later, Singler was back at it, hitting a wide open three given to him by Westbrook.
From that point on, Singler was forced to deal with Parsons defensively. This was good and bad. Parsons probably missed that shot at the 4 minute mark because of Kyle. But Singler also played Parsons too close, and committed a foul on a three point shot. In any case, Singler recovered with some late heady play on offense. Both plays were essentially the same. Westbrook attacks around a screen, is stifled, Singler tries to follow. Singler missed the first follow up three, but drained a follow up layup a play later.
Overall, easily the best game we've seen from Singler all season. The three triples against Charlotte on Wednesday were fun, but Singler really proved his worth in important situations today.
It was a below average night for Russell Westbrook, but he still had a positive impact on the game overall. Westbrook was obviously in attack mode most of the game, as the Mavs don't have a rim protector half of the time. But with Adams out and Kanter playing mostly with the bench, there was nobody to create space for Russ. Thus, Westbrook had to do a lot of his work in transition or when he could get mismatches. Westbrook's three point shot was off, as all four attempts were uncontested.
Defensively, Westbrook was his usual on again, off again self. In the first half, Westbrook's defense was particularly bad. Teammate Serge Ibaka glared at Westbrook for not chasing Deron Williams around a screen towards the end of the first half. Westbrook also let Williams hit a couple of mid-ranges when going all out to defend the three point line. Williams even once scored off of a blown Westbrook three, because Westbrook couldn't get back fast enough.
In the second half, Williams scored just as much, but not directly on Westbrook. All of Williams scores either came with Westbrook off the floor or in a mismatch. So Westbrook's defense really wasn't much of an issue tonight. And of course, the two steals and one block helped out as well. The block on J.J. Barea was particularly ferocious.
I was impressed with Westbrook's decision making late. Two unselfish assists to wide open Waiters and Singler with 6:37 and 6:07 to go in the fourth. Also, a nice mid-range shot in an isolation situation with Williams at the 4:41 mark. Sure, a couple of Westbrook's drives were blocked, but at least he was attacking the rim. And Westbrook is used to having Adams in those situations.
Ibaka's rollercoaster game
Serge Ibaka really did a wonderful job closing out on Dirk Nowitzki. There wasn't a single point that I can remember Dirk scoring directly on Ibaka. All of Dirk's points seemed to come in transition or when he was being guarded by Durant. Still, Ibaka's offense, on the whole, left a lot to be desired. I know that Serge finished with 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting. But at the half, Ibaka had only taken two shots, and the Thunder were down by 8. Then, Ibaka scores 10 points in the third, including a pair of threes in transition. Thunder up by 9 at the end of the third.
In the fourth, Ibaka's value plummets right back down. One lost ball turnover. One offensive foul turnover. And a pair of missed jumpers where the Mavericks left him wide open. This all came in the last four minutes of the game. So yeah, on the whole, Ibaka had a statistically solid night on offense. But I wish his contributions were just a bit more consistent or timely, that's all. Really though, Ibaka had his work cut out for him, playing center with Adams out. So I'm probably just being too hard on Ibaka for a solid performance.
- Dion Waiters was kind of hidden amongst the noise tonight, but really delivered a solid game. Three triples, all of them on the corner or wing, all of them off of a pass. A sweet stepback on Deron Williams, a finish over Parsons in transition, and even an assist to Ibaka in transition. Waiters spaced the floor and knew his role. If Waiters can do what Morrow does but provide more size on defense, than who needs Morrow? I know some would like to see Waiters pass more, but I think his job is to score. And there are still a couple of bonehead plays each game, but Waiters really seems to come through and defer when it matters. (I saw Waiters lose Wes Matthews in transition and allow a three in the first half, though.)
- Enes Kanter had an up and down night. JaVale McGee finished with 11 points, and it's mostly Kanter's fault. But Kanter also finished with 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting, and went out of his way to defend the three. I'd pretty much call everything a wash
- Nick Collison had a couple of pick and roll successes tonight, as well as a smattering of offensive boards. And Pachulia, Collison's opponent, was held to just four points on 2 of 5 shooting. (Pachulia averages 10 PPG.) Collison won't ever be as effective of a screen setter as Adams, but he still set a few key screens tonight. Really great game from Nick, and he's definitely an underrated part of the victory.
- Cameron Payne got off to a rocky start. The shots Payne was taking were open, but at the half Payne was shooting 1 of 5 with 2 fouls and no assists. But Payne finished the game extremely strong, working in transition and with Enes Kanter. One of Payne's makes was one of those fancy floaters that we all love. As always, Payne's ability to read the defense was impeccable, as he found Collison and Waiters in the second half.
- Andre Roberson only got to play at the start of the first half and the start of the third quarter. Roberson scored off of an Ibaka miss, but otherwise didn't take a single shot. Roberson limited Wes Matthews to 1 of 3 shooting when he was on the floor though, so that's not bad.
- No minutes for Charlie Villanueva, whom was ejected from the last Thunder-Mavs game for the choking gesture towards Westbrook.
- Glad Payne was able to limit Barea to 2 of 6 shooting, and that Barea couldn't take advantage of playing at two guard. That's a classic Carlisle-created situation.
- Rick Carlisle tried to use Salah Mejiri as a bit of a secret weapon late in the game, as the Thunder were playing with no center. It paid off, as Mejri scored on two separate possessions. Defensively, Mejri blocked a shot from both Durant and Westbrook, whom weren't expecting that type of resistance in the paint. Ultimately, though, Mejri took away the Mavs' ability to spread the floor. And that's part of the reason why the Mavs weren't able to find a three point shooter.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, any day, any time.
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, the bombastic bruiser
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, for the blown clutch shots
Thunder Plunderer: Chandler Parsons, 26 Points on 50% shooting, 4 of 6 from three
Next Game: At the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, January 24th, 2:30 PM Central Standard Time.
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