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Game 3 Thunder Analysis: Durant, Westbrook return to mid-range and smash Mavs

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Inefficient shots? Pah, not for KD and Westbrook.

Now, imagine if Dirk was CGI!
Now, imagine if Dirk was CGI!
W. Bennett Berry

In a game that saw OKC never give up their lead, the Thunder have satisfyingly crushed the Dallas Mavericks, 131-102. It was the third largest loss in Maverick playoff history, with the second worst loss being Game 1 of this same series. The Thunder led by 10 at halftime, and by 19 after three quarters.

Kevin Durant was the story of the night, having rebounded from his putrid Game 2 performance. In case you didn't see it, KD missed 26 shots during Game 2. It was the most shots KD had missed in his entire career. Tonight, in Game 3, KD looked dominant. 34 points to go along with 3 assists, on 11 of 25 shooting. The main difference is that KD didn't try too hard to make difficult shots 4-9 feet away from the rim. Check out KD's Game 2 shot chart compared to Game 3:


You can see that KD crammed all of his shots close to the paint during Game 2. The Mavericks generally aren't very good at rim protection, so it kind of made sense. But the Mavs always have somebody ready to meet KD going to the rim defensively. So it was nice to see KD go back to the long two point jumpers for Game 3. The Mavericks really don't have the length to match up with KD on the perimeter. So when KD goes to his turnaround jumper or gets space around a screen, it's curtains.

However, I also like how aggressive KD was when he actually did take it to the hole, and I loved KD's quick passes to the corners under pressure. KD was able to get 11 free throw attempts tonight, compared to just 5 during Game 2.

Box ScoreShot Chart/Play-by-PlayPopcorn MachineCondensed HighlightsWestbrook Post-Game InterviewKevin Durant 34 Pts HighlightsRussell Westbrook 26 Pts HighlightsEnes Kanter 21 Pts HighlightsDion Waiters 19 Pts HighlightsSerge Ibaka 16 Pts Highlights |  Wesley Matthews 22 Pts HighlightsRaymond Felton 18 Pts HighlightsDirk Nowitzki 16 Pts HighlightsJose Juan Barea 15 Pts HighlightsThunder Press ConferencesMavericks Press Conferences

The Westbrook Renaissance

Russell Westbrook also had a very different Game 3 as compared to Game 2. Westbrook only took three attempts from beyond the arc tonight, as opposed to six attempts during Game 2. Westbrook also went to his mid-range "cotton shot" a lot during Game 3, and we saw none of that in Game 2.

In the assist department, Westbrook racked up 15 in Game 3, as opposed to just six assists in Game 2. I'd attribute this increase to spending more time on the floor with Enes Kanter. Having Kanter and Westbrook on the floor together opens up so much room in the paint, and really gets the defense to commit. Westbrook had 3 assists to Kanter last night, and the Westbrook-Kanter duo saw 11 minutes of total floor time. Compare this to Game 2, when the duo only saw 5 minutes of total time together.

I'd also attribute Westbrook's increased assists to better shot-making from Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters. Ibaka was straight up ignored during the second half of Game 2, only taking one shot in the entire third and fourth quarters. Tonight, along with a strong 3 of 4 start in the first quarter, Ibaka was an impressive 3 of 3 in the second quarter. Westbrook accounted for most of these points, kicking to Ibaka in the corner or on the pick and pop. Ibaka even had a dribble-in jumper from the corner, the type of shot that Anthony Morrow always hits.

Dion Waiters had the same type of impact last night. Waiters shot an amazing 7 of 11 from the floor, including a scorching 4 of 7 from beyond the arc. It really wasn't rocket science. Westbrook and Durant created the space, Waiters knocked the open shots down. There was one play set up for Dion though, where he ran around a double screen at the top of the key. Waiters received the ball above the double-screen, full speed, and completed an And 1 while heading downhill towards the rim. More of this, please! Any play that can get Dion going downhill has to be immensely helpful.

Why did the Thunder win this game?

Despite the Thunder holding the advantage throughout, the Mavericks attack always had some bite to it. The Thunder threatened to pull away several times, but the Mavericks were always able to keep it just close enough to make things interesting. Dirk Nowitzki continues to be their #1 offensive option, and he went 7 of 12 from the field tonight. OKC assumed a strategy of playing dirk physically, and occasionally attempting to trap him around screens. Ibaka or Collison was always the one to defend Dirk. As a result, most of Dirk's scores either came in the pick and roll, or when he was able to take Ibaka/Collison all the way to the rim. I like how the Thunder chose their poison here, because we can't have Dirk getting hot from outside.

Because the Thunder worked so hard to shut down Dirk, the Mavs had to go to their other options. Raymond Felton was 8 of 15, J.J. Barea was 6 of 14, and Wesley Matthews was 6 of 13. Felton and Barea were the main creators, working around screens in an attempt to get open. Most of Felton and Barea's scoring came in the paint, and most of that was against Enes Kanter. Kanter definitely tried to stop them at the rim, but just didn't have the footspeed to meet Felton or Barea most of the time.

Wesley Matthews was a different case. Matthews has had a terrible series so far, leading some to suspect that he's been dealing with an injury. And Matthews was 1 of 5 through the first quarter of Game 3. But we saw Matthews pick it up a bit from that point on, as the Thunder defense started straight up ignoring him. All of Matthews field goals were assisted upon but one, and was fouled taking a three pointer two separate times. In my opinion, Donovan specifically told his team to make Matthews less of a priority tonight, given how bad he's shot. Supposing Matthews isn't at 100%, I can't disagree with that decision.

Highlight of the Night

Had to show you guys this one. Dirk Nowitzki gets a runout, and Russell Westbrook defies gravity to block him in transition. Westbrook continues to be a physical marvel!

Slammin' Notes

  • Steven Adams saw a bit less time tonight, and the Mavericks were much more successful near the rim as a result. But as the low score of Game 2 would indicate, we really don't need defense to beat the Mavericks. Not much of an offensive role for Adams either, with the Mavs clogging the paint with all their might. But I'm confident that Adams will be key in the next round against the Spurs, especially considering the Spurs aren't as stocked at center.
  • Andre Roberson hit the first shot of the game, a wacky corner three that bounced off the rim and went in. No more shots after that, but Robes did have a couple of nice perimeter steals. Neither directly led to a score, but oh well. I'll also note that Roberson was very good when he was matched up with J.J. Barea, and deterred a lot of shots. There's a huge height difference there obviously, but it definitely speaks volumes about Roberson's defensive sense and mobility.
  • Nick Collison had 12 minutes, and was his usual veteran self. Very physical defense with Dirk, got called for a couple of fouls that I didn't agree with. Loved Collison's energy, and pressure around screens. It's a huge luxury to have such a good defensive stopper on the bench. Offensively....I'm just glad he knows his role.
  • Anthony Morrow got some time during the second quarter, didn't shoot, and was never heard from again. With Ibaka and Waiters hitting so well from three, there was just no need for the defensive risk.
  • KYLE SINGLER DIDN'T PLAY TODAY. But he'll be back. The Mavericks don't have a lot of wings, and Singler's main purpose is to cover the perimeter against wings. So expect much more of playoff Singler in future series. First playoff DNP-CD, and first Thunder DNP-CD since March 24th.
  • Randy Foye had 14 minutes, and kinda managed the point guard position at times. At this point, Foye is pretty much just setting up the offense and passing the ball off. Foye did hit an assisted three though, so there's hope for his offense beyond the arc.
  • I remember Foye losing the ball out of bounds at one point because he thought KD was going to grab it....that was definitely a bonehead moment.
  • Westbrook hit a jumper in Villanueva's face in garbage time. Extremely satisfying revenge for interrupting his dance!
  • Josh Huestis and Cameron Payne got garbage minutes, and Huestis hit another three. I'm getting more and more confident in this guy as time goes on.
  • There was definitely less of a role for Mejri with Adams out. The less Mejri the better for the Thunder, IMO.

Marina's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, better at being Dirk than Dirk

Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, all cotton all day

Thunder Blunder: Randy Foye, could have seen a bit more energy

Thunder Plunderer: Dirk Nowitzki, wily as ever

Next Game: At the Dallas Mavericks, Saturday, April 23rd, 7 PM Central Daylight Time.

What did you think of last night's game? Drop a comment and let us know!