Third Quarter Breakaway - OKC 112, DAL 99

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

In the first quarter on Sunday night, the ball clanged against the rim as the Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks combined for just 38 points. In the third quarter, the Thunder scored 39 points itself, in a conscious effort to break free of some recent sluggish second half starts.

In a breakaway quarter coming out of halftime, the Thunder got a three-pointers from Josh Huestis, Paul George and then two from Russell Westbrook, with a pair of free throws in between during a four-minute span. Those buckets, and the corresponding defensive stops on five of Dallas’ next seven possessions, led to a 16-4 scoring run that broke the game wide open, resulting in a 112-99 Thunder victory.

“We were being the aggressors,” Westbrook stated firmly.

“The focus was to pick it up in the third quarters,” forward Jerami Grant added. “We wanted to pick up the defense, and defense turned into offense for us.”

Even without Carmelo Anthony, who was a late scratch due to a sore back and Steven Adams, who missed his second straight game, the Thunder played perhaps its best game of the season. The defense held Dallas to 42.5 percent and forced 20 turnovers, that led to 28 Thunder points.

More importantly, however, the Thunder prevented Dallas’ small ball style from turning into relentless drive-and-dish opportunities for layups at the rim. The Thunder used its length and verticality to block four shots but deter even more, holding Dallas to just 18-for-37 in the paint.

“We had size so we were able to contain without getting beat,” George noted. “Our weakside help was as good as it has been.”

“That was the gameplan coming in,” Grant explained. “We know they like to attack the basket, especially the guards. We did a great job of coming over and helping the guys out.”

On offense it was a bit of a slow start, but then the Thunder blew the doors off starting in the second quarter. Russell Westbrook racked up 27 points to go with six rebounds, five assists and three steals tonight, and was aided by making 12 of his 13 free throw attempts. That’s a very welcome sign for the league’s reigning MVP, who had struggled a bit at the line while adjusting to the NBA’s new free throw delay-of-game rules that prevent players from going outside the three-point line between foul shots.

It was Westbrook’s 29th birthday, his first as a father, and he enjoyed the Thunder’s easy win over a Western Conference rival. Paul George even got him a special gift.

The birthday Brodie. A win and 27 points from @russwest44 #ThunderUp.

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“I got him 37”, George quipped, referencing his point total in the game, on 12-for-22 shooting and a 7-for-12 mark from the three-point line. George scored 25 of his points after halftime, shooting 8-for-12 over the final 24 minutes of action. He let the game come to him on catch-and-shoot jumpers, but still made sure to attack by splitting double teams and getting all the way to the rim. His primary focus tonight, however, was managing to defend all five positions on the floor – from Dirk Nowitzki to Wesley Matthews to Harrison Barnes and rookie Dennis Smith Jr.

“I’m just staying in that attack mentality. At this point I know where shots are coming from and I know where to catch the rhythm,” George said. “Now it’s just playing in those situations that I’m in.”

“Honestly defense is the part I lock in,” George added. “Defensively is where I like to leave a mark and try to be special on that end. I’m just sticking to the game plan on personnel and matchups, and sticking to the gift God has given me.”

George and Westbrook combined for 64 of the Thunder’s 112 points, but the Thunder’s role players shot 56.3 percent on the night. The Thunder’s 33 free throw attempts certainly helped, but efficient production from everyone else sealed the deal. Huestis registered a career-high nine points, Jerami Grant, scored 10 while playing 34 minutes to fill in for Anthony in the starting lineup, and the rest of the Thunder role players all shot 50 percent or better.

“The ball moved,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “We had five (turnovers) in the second half. That was the biggest difference. And then we shot a much better percentage. Paul got downhill and we got to the free throw line, and that was critical.”

PG: 37p/8r/5a. 7/12 from three. Wow

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Thunder Highlights:

By the Numbers

9- Points for Josh Huestis, a career high, on 3-for-7 three-point shooting

28 – Points scored by the Thunder off of 20 Dallas Mavericks turnovers

50 - Shooting percentage on the night for the Thunder, including 56.3 percent after the first quarter

The Last Word

“Defensively tonight it was our best game, in terms of start to finish we played a complete game defensively.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

Sunday night victory.

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