When the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder rolled into town Monday night, the Mavs had reached the point in the season where every win and loss is critical to playoff positioning. They ended up securing possession of fifth place and dealing a blow to Oklahoma City's playoff odds thanks to arguably the best individual performances Chandler Parsons and Rajon Rondo had turned in as Mavericks.
Parsons was magnificent shooting the ball, scoring 31 points on 14 field goal attempts, and Rondo looked brilliant engineering the Dallas offense with an 11 point, 13 assist double-double.
Dirk Nowitzki also had a vintage Dirk game, hitting four of seven three point attempts on his way to 22 points. Monta Ellis (24 points) and Tyson Chandler (7 rebounds and 2 blocks), the other Dallas starters, struggled for stretches of the game but made key contributions down the stretch.
The Mavs started the game with runs of 9-0 and 10-0 before falling behind 29-27 at the end of the first. Things got much uglier in the second quarter as the team fell behind by double digits with a lineup featuring Nowitzki and four reserves was beat up on the glass. The team went into the half down 10 only thanks to a last second desperation three point attempt from Rondo.
A game that got physical in the second quarter only seemed to get chippier in the third. Both teams were in the penalty with more than six and a half minutes left and Dallas struggled to cut the lead to single digits as Thunder big men Enes Kanter and Steven Adams returned to the free throw line again and again. Even a flagrant foul on J.J. Barea by Russell Westbrook seemed to provide only a temporary jolt to the team.
But the Mavs managed to chip away at the deficit as the quarter drew to a close and a Nowitzki three pulled Dallas to within three. After a defensive stop on the ensuing Oklahoma City possession, a driving Rondo found Parsons, who sunk a three point attempt to tie the game while being fouled (he would miss the ensuing free throw).
In the fourth, the Mavs looked to be the aggressors after getting pushed around for much of the previous two quarters. Much of that was a result of Rondo's constant probing of the defense to find open shooters.
Although Westbrook managed to tie the game at 108 all with under two minutes left, the Mavericks maintained their composure as both Russ and Adams fouled out. The final minute was a lot closer than preferable--Ellis and Richard Jefferson missed three combined foul shots--but the Mavs grabbed a key win that's significant even with last year's MVP, Kevin Durant, in street clothes.
The Thunder had been rolling recently as Westbrook posted MVP-worthy numbers. If the Mavericks' recent slide continued, they could have been facing a potential first round matchup with Golden State. Tonight's win hopefully slammed the door on that kind of drop in the standings but Dallas will have to continue to build on the success of the last two games as several matchups remain with playoff caliber teams.
- Dallas definitely missed Al-Farouq Aminu, who missed his second game after injuring his shoulder last week against the Cavaliers. The Mavs outworked OKC on the boards to close out the win but the Thunder still had a 59-37 rebound advantage. For as much as Amar'e Stoudemire brings to the table, the team needs Aminu's energy and athleticism to matchup against teams with such big frontlines.
- Speaking of the frontline, Tyson Chandler had his work cut out for him tonight. His stat line was modest--only 5 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 2 blocks--but he expended a lot of energy working against Kanter, Adams and backup Thunder center Mitch McGary. The team was lucky not to lose him to an ejection in the first half after he was assessed with a very questionable flagrant foul. Multiple players from the Dallas bench got up to restrain Chandler, who already had one technical in the game--a sign the team knows just how valuable he is.
- It was worth wondering before this game who was going to stop Westbrook, a guy who has literally averaged a triple double so far this month. But his numbers--24 points, 8 rebounds and 12 assists--while impressive weren't the otherworldly stats we've come to expect from him. He also recorded 7 turnovers Monday night. Credit Rondo for making Russ work on both ends of the floor.