The Oklahoma City Thunder are really talented and good at basketball. The current Dallas Mavericks aren't so talented and aren't so good at basketball.
Sometimes, it's as simple as that. The Mavericks did a lot of things wrong tonight -- couldn't rebound, couldn't defend the pick and roll, couldn't generate decent looks in the half-court, couldn't slow the Thunder down -- but it wasn't for lack of effort or execution. It was a lack of talent.
Because hell, they tried. They played their asses off. J.J. Barea scored 15 points on one leg. Dirk Nowitzki with a sore knee hit 7-of-12 from the field. Wes Matthews tried to body up Kevin Durant just like he did in Game 2.
None of it mattered because the Thunder decided it wouldn't matter. They didn't let Dallas get into their heads and make them play a game they aren't comfortable with. The Thunder played their game and because the Mavs are so woefully outmatched talent-wise, there wasn't a damn thing they can do to stop it.
I mean, they really tried. Raymond Felton tried to reenact his Game 2 heroics. Dirk tried to turn the clock back. Salah Mejri tried to cut off as many drives to the basket as possible. The Thunder just did their thing. It felt like a really well-coached mid-major in college basketball going against a team full of one-and-done freshmen superstars. It didn't matter if Wes met Durant right at the catch if Durant was just gonna shoot over him. It didn't matter if Mejri made a great rotation at the rim if the small Mavs guards had zero chance at rotating over and boxing out a center.
It started like most Thunder games do -- with a bang. Durant made 6 of his first 8 shots, totally eviscerating the memory of his historic brick-fest on Monday night. Westbrook didn't score early, but he dished nine first-half assists and really set the tone as the Thunder made sure to involve their tertiary players while Durant still got to cook.
Dallas put up a few fights -- Matthews stuck a couple threes to end a horrible slump, Dirk had a mini-takeover in the third quarter to get the lead down to 10. Every Mavs punch, OKC just OKC'd, established their dominance with a Westbrook steal and dunk, a Durant jumper or a Kanter offensive putback.
It's sort of fitting a game like this happened just a day after Hornets coach Steve Clifford talked about how us writers search for the next adjustment, that sometimes a team plays really well and another team just wasn't good enough.
What it really boiled down to was this -- the Mavs established themselves in this season-ending run as a defensive focused-slow-paced team. They couldn't slow down the Thunder Thursday night. They played a hobbled Barea along with two other point guards most of the night, as Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri played just 12 minutes combined in the first half. There was no chance the Mavs could rely on Matthews bailing out their defense again, trying to pick up the slack for Barea, Dirk and the returning David Lee. The Mavericks three best defenders on their roster are Matthews, Anderson and Mejri and those three didn't share the court till garbage time in the fourth.
Of course, to get those three on the floor, that means leaving one of Felton or Harris on their own as a point guard. Both were terrible tonight, Harris in particular (who had just as many fouls as points with five). At this point, Rick Carlisle has no choice to try that lineup out some more. The Mavs are massive underdogs, the offense has looked like crap in three games regardless, so just throw your all-defense lineup out there.
Even then, that doesn't make up a 20-plus point difference. That difference is made up in talent. The Thunder have it, the hobbled Mavericks don't. Sometimes it's as simple as that.