The Oklahoma City Thunder survived game 4 in Dallas by defeating the Mavericks, 119-108. The Thunder and Mavs have officially taken it up a notch in chippiness, as the game saw a number of technical fouls, including Kevin Durant getting ejected in the 4th quarter for a flagrant-2 foul on Justin Anderson. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka picked up techs as well, but the emotional miscues were not enough to leave OKC's win in doubt, despite Dallas playing their best game of the series.
The Thunder's win in game 4 might be best understood as a 'move the chains' kind of game, one that we see often in the regular season but seldom in the high pressure stakes of the playoffs. The Thunder set the stage in the 1st quarter by outscoring the Mavs 33-18 and then kept the Mavs at arms length for the rest of the game, despite Dallas outscoring them by 4 over the remaining 3 quarters. The Thunder didn't really need to do much past that point except keep on scoring points, which they did well in the 2nd half. A good thing too, because their defense, mostly on point through 3 games, played the kind of uninspired affair we saw so much in the regular season, allowing the short-handed Mavs to shoot 51.8% from the floor for the game.
The players of the night for the Thunder were Russell Westbrook and Enes Kanter, who worked their 2-man game to perfection for much of the 2nd half. Time and time again Westbrook broke down the perimeter defense and caught Kanter in perfect rolling position, and the results were spectacular - Westbrook finished with 15 assists against only 2 turnovers, and Kanter eviscerated the Dallas interior defense to the tune of 28 points on 12-13 shooting, nearly all within 5 feet of the rim:
A good thing too, because once again Kevin Durant was off for most of the night. Aside from game 1, Durant has struggled for much of this series, despite not having any elite defender to counter him in the half court. He finished 7-20 from the floor and only 4-8 from the free throw line, often rushing contested low percentage shots when other, better shots were available. Furthermore, he only tallied 4 assists, despite the fact that Serge Ibaka (7-11, 16 points), Steven Adams (5-7, 14 points), Dion Waiters (4-5, 12 points), and of course Kanter all had great success producing offense. Durant's game of frustration ended in an over-aggressive act against rookie Justin Anderson's head:
While the foul was certainly a non-basketball play, one can't help but wonder if context played a factor in it after Durant picked up a post-game technical from game 3 for 'taunting' Sala Mejri with his elbow, as well as the overall rising testiness of the series.
Fortunately for Durant, his All-Star running mate Westbrook has no equal on the court, as he once again positioned himself in rare history:
Russell Westbrook. 25p-15 assists. First NBA player since 1992 to have back-to-back 20/15 playoff games. pic.twitter.com/nhI1MlwmWk— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 24, 2016
Perhaps Westbrook took particular satisfaction as the game wound down and Anderson was trying to intentionally foul him. Anderson went for the foul and Westbrook did his best Barry Sanders-level impersonation and with a hip shimmy-shake, sent Anderson crashing to the floor.
While the Thunder have consistently shown they have too much offense for Dallas to contend, the Mavs have not wilted, and Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 8 rebounds) and Ray Felton (19 points, 11 assists) are keeping them competitive. Against a lesser offensive juggernaut, they might even have a shot to win this series. Credit to the Thunder for finally putting together some solid 4th quarters to keep the wins secure.
One of the great things about the NBA playoffs is that usually by around game 4, both teams are so sick and tired of each others' faces that blood is constantly in the water. Lucky for OKC that they have the biggest shark in the ocean in Russell Westbrook.
Game 5: Monday, April 25th at 7PM CDT