In a merciful end to perhaps the most unwatchable series of basketball the Thunder have ever played, Game 5 saw OKC defeat the Dallas Mavericks, 118-104.
I've been a Thunder fan from the beginning, and I can't remember going into a game so angry and unwilling to concentrate on the actual basketball. All of the dirty play from the Dallas Mavericks literally took my mind off the tactics of the game, and into full on hatred for the other team. The Mavs may have not succeeded at getting the Thunder off of their game, but they certainly succeeded in getting this blogger off of her game.
For a full intro of how the Mavs have messed with the Thunder up to this point, check my preview of Game 5.
Let me explain. Before the game, owner Mark Cuban was running his big mouth and insulting the Thunder's players directly. Cuban went for Westbrook specifically, saying that KD was the only "true superstar" on the team. Here's the ensuing exchange:
Reporter No. 1: "Wait … Russell Westbrook’s not a superstar?"
Cuban: "I think he’s an all-star but not a superstar."
Reporter No. 2: "What defines a superstar to you, Mark?"
Cuban: "When you look at Dirk [Nowitzki] – I’m not going to talk about other team’s players other than what I just said – Dirk for 15 years won 50 games no matter what. We put Moe, Larry and Curly next to him and he won 50 games … and I know there’s your headline."
Reporter 1: "Absolutely."
Cuban: "Russell’s certainly an all-star, but I consider Durant a superstar. You look at Dirk all those years to now, he carries teams to 50 wins. To me, that’s [what makes a superstar] … it wasn’t until we got J-Kidd [Jason Kidd] that we had another Hall of Famer. So, to go the 15 years where Dirk won 50, that’s a superstar. There’s only a few guys that you put them on any team and they’ll win 50 games. To me that’s the definition of a superstar."
This comment is ridiculous as it comes. Last year, with KD's injury is a prime example. Without Russell Westbrook in the early part of the season, the Thunder went 4-10. With Westbrook, the Thunder went 41-27. That would have been more than good enough to get the Thunder to a mid-seed last year.
Take all of the other factors into consideration as well. With KD, the Thunder were 18-9. That means Westbrook's non-KD team went 23-18. That's a win percentage of .561. A 50-32 team, as Mark Cuban is describing, has a win percentage of .610. So Westbrook's team was really just a shade off of what Cuban would consider "superstar" play.
But consider this as well. Westbrook's team last year was dealing with many injuries. Ibaka missed 18 games, Adams missed 12, and Roberson missed 12. Furthermore, the Thunder were dealing with the Reggie Jackson situation. Jackson didn't want to be on the team, and was openly antagonistic towards the end of his run. So the record is definitely a bit below where it should be. Put Westbrook on a dramaless team with Moe, Larry, and Curly, and I guarantee you he'd win 50 games.
Also, consider the fact that Cuban has deep pockets and can sign any free agent he wants. Arguably, Dirk has always had a good level of talent around him due to this fact.
Anyway, after the game, Kevin Durant wasn't taking any crap:
"Hold up. [Cuban is] an idiot. Don't listen to this sh--. He's an idiot. Alright? That's what we've got to say about that. You know, he's an idiot. Next question."
All of the Mavericks didn't have such harsh words for Westbrook's game though. There was nothing but respect from Dirk, the elder statesman:
"I think the whole league knows. When [Westbrook] makes a pull-up, he's pretty much unguardable. He can drive left, go right. Finish at the rim. He's probably the best offensive rebounding guard this league has ever seen. And if he makes those pull ups behind a screen.... You know, there's not much you can do but high-five him and tell him good game."
Anyway, Mark Cuban's behavior was just the beginning. Before tipoff, Charlie Villanueva started bothering Russell Westbrook. Again. Just completely classless, juvenile behavior. Westbrook sounded off post-game:
Westbrook, post game: "[Villanueva] said a lot, he was there. But now he gets to go home. And do whatever he needs to do to get ready for next year. To sit down and watch 82 more games, like he did this year."
Added KD: "[Villanueva] might not even be in the league."
The dirty play predictably continued throughout the game. Justin Anderson was a primary culprit. Anderson has been a professional at selling foul calls throughout the series, and constantly jumps around like some kid hyped up on Skittles. But Anderson really went over the line today. At one point, Fox Sports Oklahoma's camera crew was showing the Maverick bench, at a distance. Anderson literally stepped out on the court to push a towel into a camera. A security guard in a suit had to push Anderson back from the camera. I mean, really?
But it gets worse. Justin Anderson drove the ball, and kicked his knee into Enes Kanter for no good reason.
Enes Kanter took a shot to left hip/abdomen here. Looks to be in pain: https://t.co/rVxHiWhhxc— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 26, 2016
Kanter suffered some sort of injury, and had to go back to the locker room. Kanter eventually returned to the bench, but not the game. No word on severity, but it was still unethical basketball.
And it still gets worse. It all ended with Russell Westbrook literally being elbowed in the face by Justin Anderson in a scrum.
It was called a jump ball afterwards, but Russ was done. Westbrook literally didn't even jump for the jump ball, waited to be checked out, and walked off the court. No shaking of hands, no talking, no nothing. And yes, Westbrook was in the locker room before the game had even ended. My hero.
Raymond Felton also acted like a USDA prime jackass during that scrum. Felton grabbed Westbrook while he was on the ground, and held Westbrook's arm as he stood up. In the NBA, you don't pull opposing teammates away from scrums. Felton wasn't much more tempered during the game, as he punched the ball in frustration at least once.
I'll admit, even the Thunder got into it. Dion Waiters threw an elbow at J.J. Barea on a drive with 48 seconds to go in the first, obviously maliciously. There's no video of it online, and it wasn't called. Fox Sports OK had a replay of it clearly showing Dion's elbow, but TNT didn't show it. I only have access to the TNT feed, so here's the best screengrab I could get. There's two sides to every story, and Waiters was obviously in the wrong in this instance.
But by and large, the Dallas Mavericks went just about as low as you can go. Game after game, the Mavs employed dirty tactics to get in the Thunder's heads. Furthermore, the Mavs put everybody at risk for injury by assaulting Thunder players whenever they could get away with it.
But I'm probably being a bit unfair. The real instigators here are Charlie Villanueva, Justin Anderson, J.J. Barea, Raymond Felton, and Salah Mejri. As well as Coach Carlisle, whom spoke with no respect for the other team. The rest of the Mavericks are probably blameless. In any case, I certainly wouldn't want any of these players on my basketball team. Winning isn't the most important thing. Winning with honor and respecting your opponent is. There's gamesmanship, and then there's bullying. The Mavericks straight up bullied the Thunder, whom were in a bad emotional place considering how the past two years have gone for this team. It was disgusting to watch, and fun for nobody involved.
Box Score | Shot Chart/Play-by-Play | Popcorn Machine | Condensed Highlights | Super Condensed Highlights | Slow-mo Phantom Cam Highlights | Russell Westbrook 36 Pts Highlights | Kevin Durant 33 Pts Highlights | Dirk Nowitzki 24 Pts Highlights | Steven Adams 15 Pts Highlights | Kevin Durant Postgame Interview | Westbrook, Durant, and Nowitzki Full Press Conference | Coach Donovan Full Press Conference | Inside the NBA Halftime Report
So, there was actual basketball last night!
Why did the Mavericks keep this one close?
Defensively, the Thunder were constantly doubling around screens or switching defenders. I wasn't too big a fan of the Thunder's pressure, because the Mavericks just passed out of the double team every time for open shots or dunks. Understandably, a big part of the Thunder's game is defense leading to offense. But the Mavs were able to shoot 13 of 20 in the paint, as well as 8 of 24 from beyond the arc. The Thunder just didn't have the quickness to deal with Dallas' point guard heavy lineup.
To combat this, Billy Donovan actually went to Cameron Payne for a bit during the first and second quarters. Payne was admirable, hitting an off the dribble three and mid-range shot. But Payne's defensive awareness could use a bit of help at this point, and he wasn't super-effective on that end. Predictably, Payne sat out the second half. I wouldn't expect many more minutes for Payne moving forward, unless another team decides to throw a bunch of quick point guards at us.
Another reason for the closeness of the game was offensive rebounding. Even Coach Donovan talked about the Mavs offensive rebounding during press conference time. But it wasn't so much the numbers as it was the specifics. The Mavs were really only good on the o-boards when Pachulia and Powell were in the game together. And at the start of the third quarter, a couple of recovered possessions from offensive rebounds got the Mavericks to within one possession. But the Thunder quickly recovered, mostly just outscoring the Mavericks and hoping they missed their jumpers. Westbrook provided the offensive fuel, while Roberson had a crucial steal and dunk while helping on Zaza Pachulia.
The Mavs were also able to bring the game within four during the fourth quarter, mostly on the back of some hot shooting and poor performances from the Thunder's bench. But when it came down to it, the Thunder were able to force the Mavericks outside. In the fourth quarter, the Mavs took eight threes, four mid-range shots, and four shots in the paint.
OKC's stars fuel the victory, after struggles in Game 4
KD and Westbrook were really shut down in Game 4, as Westbrook couldn't get much at the rim and Durant tangoed with double-teams. But Game 5 saw a renaissance for both players. Westbrook was the real instigator of change, as he went back to the mid-range cotton shot that was so successful for him in Game 3. Westbrook 4 of 5 from mid-range, and 3 of 7 around the arc. As Dirk put it, when Westbrook is hitting shots around screens, there's not much you can do.
Durant feasted off of Westbrook's success. When the Mavs paid attention to Westbrook, it was easy for KD to slither away for a few open shots of his own. Otherwise, KD pretty much did what he does every night, naivgating around screens and hitting turnaround jumpers. 11 of 24 isn't the greatest shooting night in the world, but I'll take it.
Highlight of the Night
This play occurred after a bunch of fouls, so it was really refreshing in the moment. It really embodies what everyone loves about the Thunder. Sometimes, they're just so crafty. A cross-court baseball pass for an instant dunk doesn't often come off of a made free throw.
- Steven Adams was hacked at least once tonight, and it certainly didn't work. Carlisle used the tactic when the Mavs got to within a possession of OKC in the second quarter.
- Overall, Steven Adams got a ton of time due to Kanter's injury. 38 minutes is more than Adams has played in a single game all year. So it's not surprising that Adams racked up 15 points tonight All of Adams shots were within four feet of the rim. Defensively, Adams was a bit disappointing on the whole, and could have communicated better with his teammate on a couple of possessions. But Adams was really locking down the interior late in the game. And, don't forget, I pretty much hold Adams to a higher defensive standard than everyone else. Adams is easily the Thunder's most important defender.
- Serge Ibaka, 0-4. Really timid all game. Part of it is because Westbrook didn't pick and pop too much, and Westbrook is the primary offense setter-upper for Ibaka. But really, Ibaka needs to step up and be a part of the offense. Ibaka's D on Dirk was acceptable, but I admired Nick Collison's physicality more.
- Speaking of Nick Collison, he hit a jumper and had a sick bounce pass to Westbrook in the paint for a dunk. Collison will be essential against David West next round, so it's extremely encouraging to see him in form.
- Roberson hit three shots near the rim, missed a tough layup and missed two corner threes. Barea had a decent outing, but mostly because other defenders were switched onto him. The only shot Barea made on Dre was a very long two point jumper.
- A game after scoring a career high, Kanter only had 12 minutes and shot 2 of 4. Part of this was due to injury, and part of this was because Westbrook didn't really look for him a lot.
- Randy Foye. 10 Minutes, a missed mid-range, and 4 assists. No turnovers! Foye isn't much of an offensive threat at this point, but he does have a role in managing the game behind Russ. Props to Donovan for running sophisticated sets that allowed Foye to put the ball in the right places. All of Foye's assists were to open jumpers, accordingly.
- Dion Waiters had 22 minuts, played some stalwart defense on Devin Harris, and went 4 of 8 from the floor. There was much more of three point shooting Dion, as he hit three shots from the corners and an open mid-range shot delivered to him by Kanter. This is really where I see Dion's role going moving forward in the playoffs. The occasional drives are nice, and a stepback will happen once in a blue moon. But for the time being, Dion is somebody who thrives when working off of other players. As a fan, I couldn't be happier for him.
- Anthony Morrow played three seconds at the end of the first half, on an offensive possession. Donovan, you really are a sly one.
- Kyle Singler, third straight DNP-CD. I continue to guarantee that he'll be back next round.
- "My body was exhausted last night. Didn't feel well. Had the chills a little bit. Took some nyquil. got 10 hours of sleep, and I actually felt really good today. I was ready to go." -Dirk Nowitzki
- "We'll miss you here at Fox Sports Oklahoma." -Michael Cage, almost literally making me cry
- "Mavs down to their last match, with a strong wind blowing" -Brian Davis, getting in his adages while he can
KD hits the shot while being fouled. Westbrook comes into the frame and proves he plays possessed. https://t.co/GtaVeW52bt— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) April 26, 2016
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, his shots hit nothing but cotton
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, much better as a scorer than a distributor
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, 0fer
Thunder Plunderer: Dirk Nowitzki, 24 points on 8-16 shooting. Still has the unstoppable turnaround.
Next Game: At the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, April 30th, Time to be Announced.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know! Thunder-Spurs series preview to come later this week.