Thunder Comes Up Empty All Night – OKC 81, DAL 97

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

DALLAS – There are a handful of nights each year in the NBA when a team just doesn’t have it. Lackluster defense, shaky shot selection and missing open looks were the symptoms of a clear condition on Saturday night: the Thunder didn’t have it at all. Physically, mentally and emotionally, the Thunder got outplayed by the Dallas Mavericks, and it resulted in an ugly 97-81 loss.

If the Thunder’s record (now 8-11) was more reflective of its net rating, (+3.4), this loss wouldn’t be so tough to swallow. In the midst of this inconsistent stretch of play to start the season, a sound defeat like this that would typically look like an anomaly may seem to fit with a trend, even if that’s not the case.

Head Coach Billy Donovan said that despite his team was playing for the third time in four nights and on the second night of a back-to-back, the Thunder still brought energy and effort. Instead of an effective machine operating at a high level, however, it was a sputtering for most of the night.

The Thunder jumped out to a 9-2 lead, but that was quickly rebuffed by a 15-4 burst by the Mavericks, who then took the lead for good. Donovan’s group made it a one-point game heading into the second quarter, but proceeded to only score 31 points over the next two periods. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Thunder was able to halfway rise out of its offensive funk, when it cut a 26-point lead down to 12 with 3:05 to go. Both Raymond Felton and Paul George had a chances at a three-pointer that missed, then Wesley Matthews banged home his fourth three-pointer of the game to give Dallas that final dagger.

“Our guys really tried hard. They gave great effort,” Donovan said. “We had a really, really hard time putting the ball in the basket. That was a big part of it. At times it probably drained us a little bit because we had good looks. We got down by (26) and they kept competing.”

“We were just too inconsistent shooting the ball offensively and had a hard time putting the ball in the basket,” Donovan continued. “We had some breakdowns defensively that probably never allowed us to keep it somewhat close because we struggled so much to put it in the basket.”

81 points is rarely, if ever enough to be competitive in an NBA game, and the Thunder only amassed that many because as a group it only shot 36.2 percent from the field and only attempted 13 free throws all night. The Thunder did manage to knock down 13 three-pointers, but only took 23 shots in the paint. That means it attempted 22 non-paint two-pointers, making just four of them.

“They had a gameplan to force us to shoot jump shots anytime we attacked the paint,” George noted. “They were sending help which put us in the position to shoot jump shots. That’s where we got wrapped into.”

“They did a good job of keeping us out of the paint and making us take jump shots. We had to take those shots,” Felton added. “You have to take what the defense gives you. You can’t overdrive and try to get into the paint and force something if it ain’t there. Gotta give your hat off to their defense too.”

On the other end of the floor, the Thunder was having to scramble back so often that it didn’t get much of a chance to set its defense. Even when it did, Dallas did a nice job of carving into the middle for lobs to the rim or kick-outs for three-pointers. The Mavericks made 15 of their 35 three-point attempts on the night and outscored the Thunder in the paint by 12 points.

“We do have moments where we just give up baskets or give up possessions that we shouldn’t. Ultimately, that’s the game,” George said. “Defensively, we’re giving up baskets that hurt us.”

“It all starts on the ball defensively. Once someone is driving the lane and you’re having to pull across and provide help, the ball starts getting sprayed around and then you’re trying to play catch up,” Donovan explained. “With a lot of times with a veteran team like Dallas who is a good ball movement team, once the penetration starts and you have two people on the ball and it gets kicked out, you’re constantly scrambling to catch up.”
Thunder Highlights:

Two Reserves Came Ready to Play

There weren’t many bright spots in this one, aside from when Nick Collison came in and helped lead the Thunder on that fourth quarter run. With three minutes to go the Thunder had two opportunities to make it a single-digit game, but just couldn’t get over the hump. Collison hasn’t played much this year, but he was ready for his chance tonight, going 2-for-2 from the field while grabbing three tough rebounds in traffic and taking a charge.

The other notable appearance was Terrance Ferguson, who was the first player off the bench tonight. Donovan looked at Andre Roberson’s 41 minutes against Detroit on Friday night and thought giving Ferguson a chance to jump in off the bench early would be a jolt. The rookie guard scored 7 points on 3-for-5 shooting and played aggressively during his 21 minutes.

“I was encouraged with the way he played and the fact that he got some time on the floor and did a really nice job for us,” Donovan said. “He’s been great. For a young guy he’s been extremely professional. He’s worked really hard. He’s very, very bright. I give him a lot of credit. He hasn’t been in the rotation and he comes in here and gets a chance to play and he was ready to play, played well and was effective.”

By the Numbers

12-for-23 – Shooting numbers in the paint for the Thunder, who attempted 35 threes and 22 non-paint two’s

15-for-35 – Three-point shooting numbers for the Mavericks on the night

24 – Assists for the Thunder on the night despite making just 29 field goals and shooting only 36.2 percent

The Last Word

“We still have to stay close, no matter what. We’re the only ones who will be able to get out of this slump that we’re in, the guys in the locker room. We have to stay together no matter what. We have to stay a family. We have to stay like brothers and figure this out.” – point guard Raymond Felton