The Oklahoma City Thunder finished off the Dallas Maverick's season Monday night 118-104, but not without having to endure yet another round of Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban's special form of "gamesmanship." A long injury list left the Mavericks devoid of the physical talent necessary to win the series so coach, players, and owner opted to wage a mental battle against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in hopes of evening the odds.
After being rocked by a historic 38 points in game one, the first phase, or what I like to call "Operation Get Westbrook Tossed," was launched just prior to tip-off of game 2. The ploy had worked when the two teams met on January 13th. First, Russell lost his cool after Charlie Villanueva grabbed his throat during a skirmish in the 2nd quarter and then he was tossed from the game just 4 minutes later when he overreacted to a J.J. Barea bump as Russ dribbled up the sideline. Ironically, the earlier skirmish flared up after Barea hooked Westbrook's arm and almost pulled him from his feet as Russell went for a layup.
Eliminating RW worked once, and since there was little to lose, the Mavs took another shot, and who better to touch off hostilities than Villanueva, who intentionally stepped into Westbrook and Cameron Payne's pregame celebration ritual setting the stage for four of the most down and dirty games I have seen in quite some time. Fortunately for the Thunder, Westbrook, to his credit, maintained his composure and even playing the occasional role of peacemaker for his teammates when tempers flared again and again throughout the series.
The second phase of the Mavs' plan, "Knock off KD's White Hat and Make him Human" proved to be fairly effective. Durant's 23.4 field goal attempts per game thus far are the highest of his playoff career, while his 26.8% shooting from beyond the arc, his 48.4% true shooting percentage, and 16.4 PER are the lowest of his playoff career.
Further, many were asking just who was that tall guy wearing #35 for the Thunder after seeing these images:
Durant said he was just "blocking out his opponent." Whatever you say Kev, but I think Serge had Merji covered.
Going for the shot block. That is what KD told reporters after being ejected in game 4 with less than a minute to play and the Thunder up by eleven. Makes me wonder if the ball sent a personal thank you note to Anderson after seeing what KD did to the rookie's head:
I suppose anyone can be pushed too far, but like Bugaloo told Motaw at the end of the car scene in the movie "Above the Rim"...man KD, you need a role model, or a hug...or something...
Which brings us to the latest episode of "The Legion of Thunder:
The moral of this story being there are bigger tests ahead with more pressure in store. With bigger stakes comes more eyes focusing on how well Durant performs and only he can find that balance between competitive fire and letting his emotions get the better of him.
I must admit however that KD's reaction to Mark Cuban's claim that Russell Westbrook is not a superstar has been inspiring me all day:
OH SNAP! Even Dirk? Looks like everyone is jumping on the Russ Bus and leaving Cuban behind.