The Dallas Mavericks made a quick trip north Sunday evening, finishing up the second game of a back to back, facing the Oklahoma City Thunder. This was Dennis Smith Jr.’s first matchup with reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, although they didn’t square up opposite each other until the second quarter (more on this later). The Thunder played shorthanded, with both Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams out with injury.
The Mavericks started the game comfortably, hitting early shots and keeping pace with the Thunder, but quickly went cold, and turnovers became the storyline.
Rick Carlisle then brought in the bench trio of J.J. Barea, Dorian Finney-Smith and Salah Mejri (paired with starters Yogi Ferrell and Harrison Barnes) and the Mavericks found themselves back in the game, eventually taking a 20-18 lead to end the first. It is important to note that with Devin Harris not available (bruised ribs) Gian Clavell joined the team again, using another day of his two-way contract eligibility with the club.
The second quarter was mostly the same song, second verse. Both teams had turnover problems all half, and fought to barely shoot 40 percent from the floor. Though the Mavericks continued their sloppy play, the Thunder didn’t fair much better, the teams combining for over 20 turnovers in the first half, and the Mavs were only down 44-42 at the break.
Early in the third, Smith Jr. and Russell Westbrook tried to get going, asserting themselves more offensively. Westbrook got particularly hot, scoring 16 in the quarter. A sequence of plays midway through the third where Russ couldn’t miss and went to the line plenty, the Thunder finally created some separation. Paul George led the Thunder to close out the quarter (Westbrook and George combining for 32 of the 39 quarter points), pulling away from the Mavericks 83-67.
The fourth quarter was one final refrain on a very messy night. There was simply too much to come back from, and it seemed that the Mavericks had to work too hard to make anything happen in the second half. With two of their three superstars playing and getting hot in the second half, the Thunder dominated the final quarter and a half, winning 112-99.
Notable stat lines:
- Harrison Barnes - 22 points, 13 rebounds (9-14 fg) 4 turnovers
- Dennis Smith Jr. - 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists (6-17 fg) 5 turnovers
- Yogi Ferrell - 18 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists (6-9 fg)
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Paul George - 37 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists
- Russell Westbrook - 27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
Here are a few things we took away from tonight’s game.
The Dennis Smith Jr. matchup tour
With his development constantly under a microscope, and the level of play across the league at the point guard position, it’s no surprise that DSJ and Russell Westbrook going head to head would be something to pay attention to. Early on, Fox Sports displayed this graphic, just to give you an idea of what Russ was doing in his DSJ days:
November 13, 2017
As previously mentioned, fans didn’t see much of them one on one until some time in the second quarter. Instead, the Thunder opted to throw two elite perimeter defenders at Smith Jr., with both Andre Roberson and Paul George taking turns trying to shut down the rookie. There’s no doubt that there will be adjustment periods when DSJ has to work against that sort of length and athleticism. But as the game progressed, Smith Jr. found ways to combat that level of defensive prowess.
There was one particular element of this game that showed one player is a rookie and the other is the reigning MVP. DSJ continued to take the ball strong through the lane all night, rarely getting a call from the refs - alternately, Russ continued to do the same, and the whistles continued to blow. Westbrook attempted 13 free-throws on the night (12-13). Dennis Smith Jr.? 1-of-1.
It’s no surprise, it’s just an aspect of the league that Smith Jr. will have to continue to push through. So far you’ve got to hand it him - he doesn’t get many calls, but it hasn’t stopped him from continuing to take it hard in the paint.
Two very different nights for the starting wings
Harrison Barnes has started to find his sea legs over the last few games. Tonight he had 22 points and 13 rebounds; and in the last three games (against elite teams like Washington, Cleveland and OKC) Barnes has averaged 25.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, shooting 56 percent from the field, and 54.5 percent from three. He has moments where he makes an effort to get to the line more (though that doesn’t always happen), and one very encouraging sign are those rebounding numbers. Barnes seems to be putting together more and more quality games together.
We have done our best here at Mavs Moneyball to point out when Wesley Matthews shows the flashes that the Mavericks were expecting from him when they signed him. He’s had a few of those games lately. But tonight...tonight was a dud. Matthews went 0-9 from the floor, 0-5 from three, and finished with 1 point, 4 rebounds, 4 assists. He did log a couple of hustle plays, but all in all this was a rough one. Matthews thrives when his only offensive job is to spot up from the perimeter (or at times posting mid range) - but if he ever finds himself trying to make plays for others, dribbling in and out of the lane, not good things happen. Many not good things happened tonight.
Another chapter in the Nerlens Noel saga
There’s not much to cover on this. After being a “Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision” last night against the Cavs at home, Nerlens Noel didn’t see the floor until two minutes left in the game, when the contest was clearly out of reach.
Carlisle has stated that Salah Mejri has earned his minutes over the last couple weeks, and most of those have come at Noel’s expense. Though the team is playing poorly, Carlisle will continue to push every player to earn playing time - and he’s always valued effort and energy on the floor - something that Mejri and Dwight Powell do on a consistent basis.