Check Ball: Thunder and Mavericks to Run it Back on New Year’s Eve - OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. DAL
- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
There are three words that every hooper should say in a time like this. “Run it back.”
For the Thunder, it’s time to roll the ball out to the top of the key at the feet of the Dallas Mavericks, check up and get ready to dig in for a 48-minute test of minds and wills as Head Coach Billy Donovan and his squad look to avenge Sunday night’s 105-103 loss. It’s very rare, and fortuitous, that the Thunder should get this opportunity to go against the Mavericks so soon after a tough loss in the closing minutes. There’s an immediate chance to correct the mistakes, like tightening up its protection of the three-point line and defense of the backboards.
“There’s a lot, I think, that we need to clean up,” said Donovan. “We have to do a better job consistently defending from behind the arc.. We didn’t do a good job in the first half rebounding. Those two things hurt us.”
On the offensive end, the Thunder will also have get a crack at knocking down some shots that went awry on Sunday. The Thunder shot just 32.7 percent from the field in the second half of last night’s game, including just 4-of-22 from three-point range. There were plenty of clean looks that fell short, but Paul George put on a fourth quarter flurry of 13 straight points that gave the Thunder a two-possession lead with two minutes to go. George scored 36 in the game and has continued to thrive offensively for the Thunder all season.
“That’s the type of player (George) is. That’s the type of player he’s been for us all year,” said reserve guard Raymond Felton. “He’s that type of scorer. He’s a special talent. That’s the reason he’s an All-Star and a superstar in this league. He proves it every night.”
Paul George on fire.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 31, 2018
With hopes that shots will fall at a higher clip at home – the Thunder has shot 46.9 percent at Chesapeake Energy Arena this year – the team’s main focus is on the defensive side of the ball. On Sunday, Mavericks rookie and Euroleague veteran Luka Doncic went for 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting, including a 4-for-11 mark from three-point range. While the shooting percentages weren’t outrageous and the Thunder forced some tough looks, defenders like George will have to try to limit the attempts Doncic gets behind the arc.
“(Doncic) has got an advantage over most rookies. He played professionally a lot sooner than a lot of these guys and it shows,” said George. “He has a veteran, pro-level game. He’s a special talent. He has game.”
In the second unit, the Thunder’s defense will have a similarly tough task. In the first half of Sunday’s game, Dallas point guad JJ Barea racked up 8 assists in his first 11 minutes of action, spraying the ball around to shooters and cutters. When the Thunder did a better job of pressuring Barea and limiting both his view and passing angles, the Mavericks reserves had a harder time scoring the ball. Playing tight coverage will be essential again tonight.
“JJ is crafty. He’s a smart player,” said Felton, a former backcourt teammate of Barea’s in Dallas. “A lot of people look at him and think just because he’s small he’s not effective. He’s very effective. He can pass the ball. He can score it. He does a great job of manipulating that pick and roll so you really have to be aggressive with him so he’s not comfortable.”
The Thunder has lost 3-of-4 games and is 5-5 in its last 10 but still sits in third place in the Western Conference at 22-13 this season. The month of December has been a rough one from a scheduling standpoint, with the Thunder currently in the midst of a stretch of 12 out of 17 games on the road, but with three of those home games, including tonight’s coming on the second night of a back-to-back. The Thunder’s legs may be road weary and shots may not drop, but this team is going to fight defensively with every drop it has, in unison, and live with the results.
“82 games in a season, you’re not going to shoot perfect every night,” said Felton. “We rely on our defense.”
“We’re a team that we’re always going to be together. We’re going to stay together,” Felton added. “We’re going to ride or die with guys who take big shots, with our guys who defend for us, with guys who play that role.”
NEWS & NOTES
- After a tough 4-for-22 shooting performance on Sunday, Russell Westbrook was very forthcoming about his recent shooting struggles and the ways he tries to impact the game besides just scoring. Westbrook’s defense has been at likely its highest level in years and he’s leading the league in both steals (2.7 per game) and assists (10.1 per game). Still, he’s not happy with his jump shot right now, and vowed to fix it moving forward.
- “I pride myself on being the most consistent player in the league. I come out every night and compete and play hard,” said Westbrook. “Missing and making shots is part of the game but I gotta do a better job, and that’s on me.”
- “I’m very, very hard on myself,” said Westbrook. “I’m going to be tougher on myself than anybody.”
- The most logical way for Westbrook to get going is to relentlessly attack the deep paint and try to score at the rim, which has been his calling card for years. Defenses are backing off of him, however, daring him to shoot three-pointers and long two’s. For Westbrook, it’s a balance of staying aggressive, but also avoiding playing in crowds which can lead to turnovers. If the Thunder point guard can get some midrange jumpers to drop, it can open up the rest of his game.
- “He’s an incredible downhill, at the rim player. You have to take those open looks,” said Donovan. “If you don’t take those kind of shots, you’re taking away his greatest strength, which is his ability to play in the open floor, his ability to play downhill and his athleticism at the rim.”