The Dallas Mavericks, 3-0 at home, went on the road for the second time in the young season, still looking for their first road win. It would be no easy task, as the host for the evening would be one of the West's elites: the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Prior to this weekend, those who had scanned the schedule might have thought this would be a winnable game, as the Thunder were supposed to playing minus star point guard Russell Westbrook.
That was before we learned Russell Westbrook has some sort of superhuman healing factor, a la Wolverine.
So, as it turned out, Dallas would not avoid the talented Mr. Westbrook tonight, and would, instead, get a highly motivated and highly aggressive version of said person. Westbrook would score eight of his team's first 11 points, and each basket of the spectacularly athletic variety. What did not seem to help the situation was the curious choice of putting Calderon -- not Ellis -- on Wolverine to start the game.
Now, possessing their own attacking guard, the Mavericks and Monta would match Westbrook and OKC drive for drive in the early going. Even on plays when Ellis failed to convert at the rim, he would draw enough attention to allow an unmolested putback attempt for a teammate. Dallas stayed glued to the Thunder, even briefly taking a five point lead at 20-15 with four and a half minutes left in the first quarter.
The lead would soon disappear, of course, and indeed all night points would come in lightning fast spurts for the appropriately named Thunder. Conjuring flashbacks to the Dallas-Miami Finals series from a few years ago, it was astonishing to see how quickly Oklahoma City was able to turn a steal or long rebound into a dunk at the other end. Top to bottom, there may not be a longer, faster roster in the league, and their ability to run the floor was predictably an enormous mismatch for an older, slower club like Dallas. An alley-oop slam with just a few ticks left from Duncanville's Perry Jones III off a Dirk Nowitzki turnover gave OKC a 33-31 lead after one quarter.
In the second quarter, Dallas would start to slow down somewhat, unable to keep the breackneck pace going. Though they would make just seven field goals in the period, three would be from behind the line, as long-range shooting seemed to be the only advantage the Mavericks had in this one. The Mavs would connect on 6 of 10 from extra-point distance, helping to keep them respectably close at halftime, 57-51. Both Ellis and Marion would lead the way, with a dozen each.
In the third, both teams began looking a bit sloppy. Five Dallas turnovers and a 6-0 run in the first few minutes helped the Thunder reach a double-digit advantage for the first time, but OKC was not able to completely run away from the Mavs, as back to back turnovers and Mav baskets put the margin back to eight.
Here the lead would stay for the majority of the quarter, as Dallas could not get out of their own way long enough to get to within striking distance, and the Thunder weren't quite yet ready to put the Mavs out of their misery. Monta Ellis, after looking every bit as good as Westbrook in the first two quarters, quieted down in the third. A possible factor might have been that he was actually guarding Westbrook now, and undoubtedly expending far more energy in the process.
Already down 10, the final period would not improve things for Dallas. Going cold from outside, the Dallas offense looked tired and stagnant; a stark contrast to what we had seen the previous four games. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City continued to beat the Mavericks with dribble penetration. A few zone looks managed to slow them down somewhat, but the lead had already swelled to 17 by this point. Rick Carlisle would finally waive the white flag with just under two minutes left and the margin 12, subbing out his starters.
- The Mavs' two losses have now both come on the road, and both against teams with clearly superior offensive talent. It would be easy to blame this defeat on turnovers allowing OKC to get out in transition, but in truth the Thunder did plenty of damage in the halfcourt, too. A very patient Kevin Durant showed off his improved passing by getting into the lane almost at will and finding either his bigs for an easy layup or his spot up shooters for uncontested jumpers. He had 10 assists, to go along with a modest(by his standards) 23 points.
- Russell Westbrook looks pretty healthy, too.
- Even if they aren't the only reason Dallas lost this one, the turnovers should be mentioned. 21 giveaways led to 23 points, and took away far too many possessions on a night where Dallas was just trying to get their head above water. Some of the miscues were just lazy, absent-minded passing. Others were likely due to an excess of adrenaline(an excess of Montadrenaline). This is the give and take of having a fast-paced offense.
- Seven turnovers or not, it was a solid performance for Ellis, who led Dallas with 20 points and yet again was a difference maker with his drives to the basket. This is such a high percentage play. I'll say it until I'm blue in the face: after years of pining for someone athletically capable of getting to the rim, Dallas now has that guy. No real insight here. It's just pretty cool.
- For the first time in a while, Vince Carter looked like somebody who is about to turn 37. Vince put an 0-for on the board, and he was also abused by Durant several times on defense. Even though he's one of the team's more athletic players, he looked way too slow to keep up with lithe bodies the Thunder put on the floor. All this probably contributed to his frustration when he elbowed Steven Adams.
- The Maverick bigs were woefully inadequate at covering the high pick and roll, allowing 54 points in the paint. I like some of the things Dalembert and Blair do. I'll like some of things Brandan Wright does, when he returns, I'm sure. What I'm not sure of, though, is if the right center is on this team.