The Oklahoma City Thunder finished calendar year 2018 on a good note, dominating the Dallas Mavericks at home, 122-102. Twenty-four hours after fumbling away a near-certain win in Dallas, the Thunder responded well, jumping out to a big first half lead and playing keep-away for the remaining 24 minutes of play.
Russell Westbrook was the primary impetus for the bounce back-game. After struggling mightily from the floor on Monday, shooting only 4-22 and missing the game winner at the buzzer, Russ ended the year with another triple-double, recording 32 points on 13-24 shooting, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals, and an encouraging 6-6 from the free throw line. Westbrook was complimented by Steven Adams, who finished with a double-double and 4 assists, as well as Jerami Grant, who finished a number of Westbrook lobs at the rim in producing 16 points on the night. In addition, Nerlens Noel was a bench standout against his former team, scoring 15 points to go with 5 boards and a block.
Overall, this game felt like a half-full/half-empty kind of affair. Despite shooting under 45% for the game and an abysmal 6-24 from three, while missing 11 free throws, OKC still won handily by 20 points and were never really threatened even as the lead was reduced to 13 points on several occasions in the 2nd half. Paul George, the offensive muscle for much of the season so far, had a subdued 22 on 7-21 shooting, and Dennis Schroder suffered through a horrid 3-14 shooting night. And Adams, despite his effectiveness, was only afforded 8 shots on the night in 33 minutes of action.
Yet on the upside, in addition to Noel’s big game, Abdel Nader once again shined with 10 points on 4-6 shooting, Patrick Patterson continued to look engaged in energizing the bench, and the Thunder defense forced Dallas into another turnover-prone night against only 10 of their own:
That’s 50 for the Mavs in the span of 24 hours https://t.co/WTsLspLIxg— Jon Hamm (@JonMHamm) January 1, 2019
OKC’s overall performance feels like shifting sands, and if they can ever manage to really put 7-8 of the 10 recurring dynamic variables together, their ceiling is formidable. And it makes last night’s loss all the more painful, because they played C- quality ball, should have stolen a win in Dallas, and followed it up with B- basketball and won by 20.
But despite my quibbles, I don’t want to end on a downer note for 2018. Here is what I know. Regardless of whatever shortcomings this team might have that ultimately defines the season, the Thunder are 10 times better off — and nearly as importantly, so much more enjoyable to follow — than a year ago, and the immediate future is bright.
I also know this. We, the Loud Citizens of WTLC, are a wonderful bunch to be a part of. We come from all backgrounds, countries and creeds, and it is because of it that something incredible is created, a mosaic of joy and camaraderie in something as simple as this team and this basketball game. I know I feel privileged every day to be a part of it, I’m humbled by the site members and the writing team I work with, and I am greatly looking forward to what 2019 will bring.