No Streamers and Confetti, Thunder Falls on New Year’s Eve – OKC 113, DAL 116

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

The Thunder tried a number of different strategies on Sunday night in its attempt to stop the Dallas Mavericks from getting the ball into the lane. Whether it was by staying in pick and roll coverages, switching everything or going with a smaller lineup, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club just couldn’t get enough stops, both down the stretch and through the 48 minutes.

“It always starts with the ball, and we had a hard time with ball containment and that is what they do,” Donovan said. “They have a lot of guys that can put it on the floor, and you got to close to it and they drive it.”

“(They) ran the same thing, made us make adjustments,” forward Carmelo Anthony added. “(They) challenged our communication level tonight and they won the game.”

Back-to-back Dennis Smith Jr. three-pointers, including one that banked in from straightaway at the top of the key, turned a one-point Thunder lead into a three-point deficit in a matter of just 35 seconds, and the Thunder suddenly had to battle uphill with a minute on the game clock running out quickly. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George made five free throws combined in crunch time, but Russell Westbrook missed three possible game-tying three-pointers as the Thunder fell 116-113 on New Year’s Eve.

It wasn’t the way the Thunder wanted to start 2018, with a second-straight loss at home where the defense showed some slippage. So much focus has been put on the offense over the past two months, there was bound to be a moment where the Thunder’s eye came off the ball on the defensive end. Against a disciplined, intelligent Dallas team that plays at times with three point guards on the floor, tonight was a bad time for that slippage to rear its head.

“We just didn’t get stops when we needed to,” Westbrook said. “You give a team confidence, it’s tough to take it away.”

The inability to keep the ball out of the lane started right at the beginning of the game, as the Mavericks racked up 35 first quarter points, including 14 in the paint and 12 from behind the three-point line. In the middle quarters the Thunder defended marginally better, as the Mavericks shot 51.7 percent from the field, made 15-of-44 (44.1 percent) of its threes, scored 46 points in the paint, got 44 points from its bench and racked up 16 second chance points.

On the other end of the floor, however, the Thunder had almost no problems. Russell Westbrook was in control all night, and shot an efficient 17-for-28 from the field on his way to a 38-point, 15-rebound, 11-assist night, squeezing one last triple-double into his 2017. Paul George got going early, scoring 18 of his 25 points before halftime, and Carmelo Anthony showed his bully-ball ability in combination with trailing catch-and-shoot three-pointers for 21 points. The Thunder shot 48.3 percent from the night, but after making eight threes in the first half made just two in the second.

“Just read and react. See how teams are guarding,” Westbrook noted. “Sometimes it’s different every night, you just have to read it.”

“I just felt like I was still in a flow, finding my spots on the floor,” George explained. “Just staying active. I was aggressive early and that carried me through the game.”

Neither team was able to break away for more than a six-point lead in this game, so the fans packed into Chesapeake Energy Arena not only got to escape the sub-freezing temperatures but also got their heart-rates going thanks to the tension that ran through the game. In fact, there were 21 lead changes and 10 ties in the ball game, so this one came down to who was able to finish better.

Unfortunately for those Thunder fans that came out for the team’s 10th-straight New Year’s Eve celebration at home, the Mavericks, and particularly Smith Jr., were the ones who got hot. Along with the back-to-back threes, Smith scored 15 fourth quarter points, including a tough driving layup to keep the Thunder behind the eight ball.

“That’s tough, but he got it going late,” George said of Smith, Jr. “That’s what happens. When a guy gets going late, he gets rhythm, he gets confidence. No matter what you throw up at that point it has a chance to go in.”
Thunder vs. Mavericks Highlights:

By the Numbers

38 – Points for Russell Westbrook as a part of a 15-rebound, 11-assist triple-double

44-19 – The Mavericks’ advantage in bench scoring on the night

51.7 – Shooting percentage for the Mavericks in the game, including a 15-for-34 mark from three-point range

The Last Word

“Honestly, just being here is more special than anything. I’m just blessed to be here and there are a lot of great things happening this year. I’m just blessed to be where I’m at.” – point guard Russell Westbrook, reflecting on the year 2017


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