The Thunder got in trouble early, to the extent that Lance Thomas got to play for a minute or so in the first quarter so that Scott Brooks could express his dismay at the regular rotation players. Dallas jumped out to a 33-26 first-quarter lead, and OKC made no progress in the second. Then came the third, in which the Thunder racked up 30 points and held the Mavs to 17. Dallas, of course, wasn’t going to let that fly, and opened the fourth with an 11-2 run; with 1:57 left, the Mavs were up one, 106-105, and something scary happened to Monta Ellis. (He was able to walk away on that sprained ankle, but did not return.) Still, what made the difference is that Dirk, big bad Dirk, played most of the fourth quarter with five fouls and hit everything in sight, while Dallas defensemen kept Russell Westbrook in check. With 12 seconds left, it was Dallas by five, and, well, Zach Lowe said it best:
OKC crunch time offense: Run one simple action, it produces nothing, holy crap we have no backup plan Russ or Reggie take a bad shot please
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) December 29, 2014
And after an exchange of buckets, that’s how it ended: Dallas 112, Oklahoma City 107, and once again the Thunder fail to climb to .500.
The Westbrook line is instructive: nine rebounds, nine assists, five fouls, five turnovers, and 18 points on 6-23 shooting. To the extent possible, his teammates compensated: Reggie Jackson, 10-17 for 21, and Serge Ibaka, 11-14 for 26. And Serge had 10 rebounds, though no blocks. There was some noise on Twitter to the effect that Steven Adams (11 points, six boards) was not the ideal matchup for Nowitzki, but I’m not convinced there is such a thing as the ideal matchup for Dirk, who cashed in a game-high 30 points, ten of them in the fourth quarter. Dirk also hit all 12 of his free throws, which points you to the Telltate Statistic: the Thunder hit 12 free throws, but missed nine more.
But, as always, the Mavs had more than Dirk. Chandler Parsons pretty much had his way in the first quarter and finished with 26. Ellis, before his injury, had 18. And Tyson Chandler didn’t even have to play: back spasms kept him out, which explains the curious Dallas starting five: Barea and Rondo in the backcourt, Dirk in the middle, Ellis and Parsons up front. Nobody seemed perplexed by any of this, except the Thunder.
This is the next-to-last game of the year; there will be a New Year’s Eve match against the Suns at the Peake, and then comes dear, drear, dreadful January.