Friday night’s dramatic loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was a hard pill to swallow, but the Oklahoma City Thunder had one final game in 2017 to focus on. Coming into the matchup, the Thunder was 8-1 in Oklahoma City on New Year’s Eve, but tonight, they were unable to get the win as they fell to the Dallas Mavericks 113-116.

The Thunder started off the first quarter hot, jumping out to an 8-2 lead in the first two minutes, but the Mavericks came out of a timeout with some hot shooting.

Midway through the period, Dallas had tied it up at 17-17, and they took the lead on a free throw on the next possession. The lead would go back and forth, changing seven times, and neither team really played much defense. Despite a strong first quarter from Russell Westbrook (11 points, five rebounds, and four assists), along with seven points from Paul George and five points from Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder would trail 32-35 after twelve minutes of play.

The second quarter was more of the same for the most part, with Dallas jumping out to their largest lead of the half at 42-36 three minutes in. From that point forward, Oklahoma City’s Big 3 continued with their hot hands, and they poured on the scoring all the way through to halftime.

The Mavericks started to cool off, but at the half, Harrison Barnes had 13 points due to shooting 3/4 (75%) from three. Russell Westbrook finished the second quarter with 17 points on 8/10 (80%), eight assists, and seven rebounds, and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined for 35 points on 11/20 (55%), including 7/11 (63.6%) from three. Oklahoma City would finish the half strong, and at the midpoint in the game, the Thunder would lead the Mavericks 63-57.

After a really strong first half on the offensive side of the ball, the Thunder struggled to score points in the third quarter, putting up just 22 points on 9/20 (45%) from the field. Dallas, on the other hand, was able to shoot 12/24 (50%). Just as it looked like the Mavs were going to enter the fourth quarter with a lead, the Thunder put together a solid final possession as Jerami Grant blocked Dwight Powell with five seconds left. Josh Huestis recovered the ball and passed it to Russell Westbrook, who was able to streak down the court and find Terrance Ferguson for a layup right before the buzzer, giving Oklahoma City an 85-84 lead over Dallas.

The Thunder would open up the fourth quarter shooting a free throw after Yogi Ferrell picked up a technical during the break followed by a Raymond Felton three, and it looked like Oklahoma City might be able to open up the game a bit as they led 89-84 just fourteen seconds in. However, with an all-bench lineup on the floor for the Thunder, Dallas was able to rip off a seven-point run to take a two-point lead, and it was at this point that starters would begin to trickle back onto the floor.

Russell Westbrook would spend the remaining eight-and-a-half minutes of the game doing everything he could to will the Thunder to a win. Westbrook scored 13 of the Thunder’s final 24 points, and despite finishing with a total of 38 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists for his 12th triple-double of the season, Oklahoma City would come up short 113-116 to the Dallas Mavericks.

3 Quick Thoughts

  • Defense Struggles in Dre’s Absence: Andre Roberson is a key contributor to the Thunder defense, and despite his offensive liability, when he’s off the floor, Oklahoma City is incapable of defending at their greatest potential. Roberson had to sit out tonight due to patella tendonitis in his left knee, and Oklahoma City’s defense was simply not the same. The Mavericks managed to shoot 51.7% from the field, including a ridiculous 15/34 (44.1%) from three. Many of those threes were uncontested, which the Thunder has really struggled with lately. Regardless of who is healthy and who is not, Oklahoma City has to be able to defend on a high level every single game, and tonight, that just wasn’t the case.
  • Offense is Coming Together: As bad as the defense was, there was plenty to be encouraged by concerning the Thunder offense. Aside from a 22-point third quarter, Oklahoma City managed to score at least 28 points each in the other three quarters, and for the game, the Thunder shot 48.3% from the field, which is well above their season average of 44.6%. The Big 3 of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony combined for 84 points on 30/55 (54.5%). It seems as if shots are finally starting to fall for this team, and if they can maintain the offensive intensity while getting back to the defensive level that they are capable of playing at, the Thunder will be just fine.
  • Happy New Year! A new year often represents a fresh start, and after two consecutive losses, the Thunder could certainly use a fresh start. December was good for Oklahoma City, as the Thunder roared their way to a 12-5 record, but even after all that progress, they are still in the fifth spot in the Western Conference. The Thunder are capable of breaking into the top four, or perhaps even the top three, and they have a good chance to do that coming up. Looking at the schedule ahead, out of Oklahoma City’s 14 games to be played in January, only six of those teams are currently above .500 on the season. Eight of the 14 games are on the road, and four of those are against teams with a winning record, but January could be a fantastic opportunity for the Thunder to string together some wins and continue to improve on their record.

New Year’s Road Trip

The Oklahoma City will open up 2018 with a mini road trip as they head out West to take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. The Lakers are 11-24 and have lost six consecutive games. The game will tip off at 9:30 PM CT and will be televised on ESPN and FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.

Be sure to check out our latest episode of Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.