The Oklahoma City Thunder had an extremely convincing victory against the Dallas Mavericks tonight, 116-103. It was, by far, the most impressive game the Thunder put together against this Maverick team this season. The win completes a four game Thunder sweep.
Dealing with Dirk
From start to finish, it appeared as if the Thunder were the superior team. Oklahoma City never relinquished their lead on Dallas throughout, riding an early 15-3 run that started the game. To the Mavs' credit, they were able to bring the game to within three in the late third quarter, and within 8 with about four minutes to go in the fourth. But the Mavs just couldn't build any consistent momentum behind a player that wasn't Dirk Nowitzki.
It was strange for Dirk to have such a good night against the Thunder, at least in recent seasons. In the Thunder's previous two matchups with the Mavs, they made an effort to pressure and double Dirk, resulting in two bad nights for him. Tonight, OKC was definitely making an effort to leave Dirk in single coverage most of the game, only pressuring him late in the fourth quarter. Even stranger is the fact that the Thunder were rather successful at stopping Dirk post-ups, when the right defender was on him. But Dirk would get space in switches, as well as the pick and roll. Of course, Dirk's shooting ability really helped the Mavs in transition as well. Heck, Dirk's ability to get fouled while setting screens on offense helped him out significantly tonight.
When it's all said and done, Dirk had a very successful offensive game. 33 points is a season high for Dirk, and 10 of 16 shooting is pretty ace. But the Thunder really shut down the rest of the Maverick starters. There was a real effort by the Thunder to switch on pick and rolls, while also doing everything they could to stay at home on shooters outside. The result was a lot of given up pick and pops/rolls. But the Mavericks were not able to kick out to open shooters. Case in point, Chandler Parsons had 6 points. (Half under his season average.) Wesley Matthews really suffered as well, shooting just 5 of 16 enroute to 15 points. Even a couple of Matthews' makes were lucky, as he was able to re-set from three twice after a successful Thunder defensive possession. In any case, whenever Matthews was given an opportunity in single coverage, Roberson completely shut him down.
Westbrook: Incredible, Durant: Pretty Good
Another absolutely stunning game from Russell Westbrook. Offensively, Westbrook was nearly flawless. Most of what we saw as far as scoring came from posting up the smaller Deron Williams. Westbrook was also reliable from three though, hitting a deep off the dribble shot as well as a catch and shoot from the wing. In terms of distribution, Westbrook used the Mavs pressure against them and racked up 13 assists. There was no particular play Russ relied upon, and he assisted six different players tonight. So it wasn't just the usual pick and pop stuff. Some of it came from set plays as well, especially stuff that was setting up KD off of screens. Huge credit to the Thunder as a whole for making their offense more advanced.
Kevin Durant had a really solid all-around game. Most of KD's work came in transition or in post ups, with at least a couple of shots around screens. The Mavs didn't double KD as much as I thought they would, so he didn't end up losing the ball or missing shots very often. KD's assist work around screens today was solid as well.
On the negative side for KD, he took 9 threes tonight. Durant is now at an average of 9 three point attempts per game for the month of February. That's too much, especially when he goes 2 of 9 like he did tonight. I'm not gonna lie, I was really impressed by KD's half-court shot that went in just before the half. But other than that, KD would fire away early and often. Basically, any time KD got an inch of space. In particular, I didn't like that KD pulled up for three off the dribble threes early in the shot clock within four minutes to go. One of them went in, but it was just giving the Mavericks extra possessions in a game where the Thunder had a serious advantage.
I don't wanna end on a negative note about KD's performance tonight though. The KD defense was really spot on. Durant was able to block a Wes Matthews three, strip Dirk in a post up, and rotated to protect the rim a couple of times.
Speaking of KD and Russ, their minutes were staggered. That is to say, either KD or Westbrook was on the floor for every significant minute of this game. As far as I can remember, it's the first time that's happened ever. Or at least, in a long time. It was certainly effective, as the Thunder were able to generate a run to start the fourth quarter. Usually, that's when the bench comes on and loses points. Donovan did an excellent job keeping their minutes low as well, with Durant playing 35 and Russ playing 36.
Randy Foye: The Hidden Key to Success
Randy Foye was awesome defensively. I say this because I'm so used to the Thunder's backcourt bench giving up endless points. But Foye was really quick and smart with where he put his body tonight. Particularly, I noticed Foye stop a couple of Barea drives, which have always been a bugaboo for OKC in the past. I also saw Foye strip the ball from Parsons in an ISO situation, as well as tip a post pass meant for Mejri. I'll admit, I can't ignore the fact that Foye was 2 of 7 from the floor, with 2 assists and no turnovers. That's acceptable. Sure, some of Foye's shots seemed like difficult ones. But the defense had to respect Foye every single time, and paid when they didn't. Furthermore, Foye's passing vision is bodacious. One of the assists was a lob to Adams, something that only Westbrook can usually do. The other assist was a drive and kick to Waiters, whom we always need to score more.
And I can say, definitively, that Morrow never had a game as defensively good as Foye did. As much as I'm a fan of Morrow as a person, I really definitively believe that Foye is the better option. Foye's assist game also means that the Thunder can rely on him to be point guard if Cam Payne is having an off-night. It will also be beneficial to have Payne learn how to play as an off-ball threat.
I did find it strange that Payne only ended up playing four and a half minutes tonight. At one point in the first quarter, KD was literally playing point guard. (P.J. Carlesimo would be proud.) Foye played some point guard to start the fourth quarter, though in practice he was sharing responsibility with Durant and Waiters. Payne's sole highlight was an assist to KD, as KD dribbled around a weak side screen. Hopefully Payne doesn't get lost in the shuffle, as we all know he has the talent to make it in this league.
- I counted six defensive stops for Serge Ibaka tonight, mixed in with a couple of Dirk jumpers. Ibaka tends to get lost in the shuffle of things, but his D is really important from night to night. Particularly, Ibaka's sense for protecting the rim and versatility in intimidating guards is really useful. Offensively, Serge got aggressive inside. It's the first game in a long time where I remember Serge scoring both in the pick and roll as well as on a post up hook. As usual, Ibaka also had a couple of pick and pops, as well as a three. 13 points overall. Throw an assist off the roll to Adams in there as well. Kudos to Ibaka for staying involved and aggressive on the offensive end throughout the entire game.
- Dion Waiters really stole the show tonight, posting 14 points on an efficient 5 of 8 shooting. Even Waiters assist game was effective, as he racked up three dimes. Waiters really struggled to find his rhythm since the post-all-star break, missing open shots and getting rejected at the rim. But tonight was different, as Waiters finally hit the open shots he was given. The only shot that Dion created himself was an off the dribble three around a Collison screen. But for real, Waiters was all about moving the ball. Dion never held it, and always made the right read after making his move. That led to a couple of hockey assists that aren't on the stat sheet. The craziest part is that all of Waiters points and assists came in the second half. Dion's defense was really solid as well, he was really motivated to run and guard the three.
- Andre Roberson returned tonight, and as I mentioned above, his defense of Wes Matthews was essential. Roberson shot 1 of 5, which isn't great. Other than a cut on the second possession and an offensive rebound putback, all of Roberson shots were missed corner threes. If Dre could just hit those....life would be a lot easier for all of us.
- Steven Adams had 9 points in the third quarter, which was a season high. The scores were a couple of lobs from KD and Foye, along with an offensive rebound putback. The rest of it was the usual Westbrook pick and roll stuff. Defensively, Adams didn't give Pachulia anything other than the pick and pop. Pachulia was held to 6 points, four under his season average. Lastly, Adams rim protection was invaluable as always. Close call at the end with Adams racking up 5 fouls, but a lot of those were questionable calls on offensive screens.
- Enes Kanter had a solid, if under appreciated night. 14 points on 9 shots. The 7'1" Salah Mejri presented a real challenge for Kanter in the paint, deterring two of Kanter's attempts tonight. But Enes worked the pick and roll and used space against Mejri. When Kanter got an opportunity against Pachulia, he had a backdown score. I also really admired Kanter's work defensively tonight. In particular, I liked Kanter's steal on David Lee, his closeout on a Harris three, and a stop on a Pachulia post up. Kanter might've gotten messed up with his pick and roll defense a bit in the first half, but meh.
- Kyle Singler missed a pair of open corner threes (on the same possession), as well as a desperation putback on an end of quarter offensive rebound. I was really disappointed to see the Mavericks able to hide J.J. Barea on Singler defensively. Like Singler was holding the ball at one point, way behind the 3pt line, with J.J. Barea on him. Surely even Singler could score on a post-up there.
- Nick Collison was off and on. Was too slow/short to hinder Dirk a couple of times, but he had at least one Dirk stop. Also, Collison had two consecutive stops in an ISO with J.J. Barea. Offensively, Collison missed an open short jumper, made an open short jumper, and threw the ball away on a lob to Foye.
- Mitch McGary cameo, always a good thing!
- I'm really glad the Thunder were able to counter David Lee with Collison and Ibaka. Over the next few weeks I think we'll learn that's a real luxury, as Lee becomes the Mavs' sixth man.
- Donovan went small with Ibaka at center for the last seven minutes of the first half. The lineup was +4, if you count KD's miracle half-court three. Overall, I thought it worked okay. Aside from one Deron Williams drive where Westbrook went to double Dirk, the Mavs didn't get a single shot in the paint. However, the Mavs were able to go into Dirk successfully multiple times, taking advantage of mismatches with a smaller Thunder player. The possibilities of Durant at power forward are very real, but not a ton came of it. I think this lineup comes out as a meh.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, offensive genius
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, shooting genius
Thunder Blunder: Kyle Singler, who seriously needs to post up Barea
Thunder Plunderer: Dirk Nowitzki, who has been doing it since I was 8 years old.
Next Game: At the New Orleans Pelicans, Thursday, February 25th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!