After a rough loss in Houston to the Rockets yesterday, one would have thought that the Thunder would have come into tonight’s game against the Mavericks with a little bit more energy, but that was not the case. Oklahoma City started off the game with some active defense, and they shot a solid 50% from the field, but a late quarter meltdown allowed Dallas to take a 26-25 lead after the first period. The Thunder came out in the second quarter with absolutely no enthusiasm as they shot a pathetic 3/15 from the field to score only 10 points as Dallas extended their lead to go up 50-35 at the half.
Whatever energy was lacking in the first half seemed to show up at the start of the third quarter as the Thunder started off the second half with a quick 11-0 run in the first two and a half minutes thanks mostly to four forced turnovers that led to 9 points. Oklahoma City continued to pour it on as they cut the Dallas lead to 1 midway through the quarter, but the Thunder offense went cold, and the Mavericks stormed back to finish the period up 69-57. Oklahoma City continued to struggle to start fourth quarter, and Dallas could not miss from three, it seemed, as the Mavericks held an 91-78 lead with 3:31 left in the game. Russell Westbrook then went into MVP mode as he led the Thunder on a 14-0 run to come away with a 92-91 win.
Westbrook Plays like an MVP
For the first time in what seemed like forever, Russell Westbrook showed up in the fourth quarter in an immense way, solidifying that he is a strong candidate for league MVP. With the Thunder down by 13 with 3:31 to play, Westbrook went wild and scored 12 of the Thunder’s final 14 points on 5/9 shooting, including the game winner.
Russell Westbrook finished the game with 37 points while shooting 15/30 (50%) from the field to go with 13 rebounds, and 10 assists to earn his 37th triple-double of the season. When Westbrook tallies a triple-double, the Thunder are 30-7 compared to 12-24 when he does not. In the fourth quarter alone, Westbrook scored 16 points while shooting 7/13 (53.8%).
Russell Westbrook had yet another incredible performance, but perhaps his most impressive play of the night was the forced turnover in the final seconds to give the Thunder possession and a chance to win the game. Westbrook read the inbounds pass perfectly and rushed J.J. Barea, who panicked, and ended up tipping the ball out of bounds. If Russ does not play with the level of energy that he did on that play, the Thunder may not get a chance to come away with the win.
Bench Play Needs Work
Oklahoma City’s bench has struggled mightily at times during the season, but tonight’s performance may be one for the books. Not a single player for the Thunder’s second unit finished with a positive +/-, and it almost cost them the game.
The Thunder has been one of the worst second quarter teams in the NBA this season, and tonight was no different. Dallas outscored the Thunder 24-10 in the period, and the 15-point halftime deficit seemed like it might be too much to overcome. Russell Westbrook and the starters made sure that they would do their part as they cut the Dallas lead to 1 midway through the third quarter, but as starters began to check out, the Mavericks started to pull away yet again.
If it were not for Westbrook’s fourth quarter scoring antics and the defensive efforts of Andre Roberson and Taj Gibson, the Thunder would have most certainly lost this game, but just as the bench did not have a single player with a positive +/-, the starters did not have a single player with a negative +/-. While tonight’s bench play was especially awful, the Thunder cannot afford to have letdowns like this headed into the playoffs. The second unit needs to step up and find their places within this team, or else the end of the season could be an ugly one.
Oklahoma City stays on the road to play their third game in a row away from Chesapeake Energy Arena when they take on the Orlando Magic on Wednesday. The Magic are 14-23 at home, but they have won 2 of their last 3 in Orlando. The Thunder improved to 15-21 on the road after tonight’s win in Dallas, and they should be able to pick another road win in Orlando against a struggling Magic squad. Tip-off is set for 6 PM, and the game will be televised on FSOK and NBA TV. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.