BY Randy Renner
The Thunder almost looked like they had last night's game in the bag, leading by 15, frustrating the Mavericks at every turn and keeping the crowd most quiet at American Airlines Center.
And then the wheels came off.
We've seen it before and we know it usually has a bad ending and last night's game did, 119-115 Mavs was the final.
Both Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook fouled out, Russ by picking up his fifth and sixth fouls within a couple ticks of the clock in the closing seconds of the game.
He picked up his fifth foul pushing off on Rajon Rondo on a drive when trailing by two, then got No. 6 immediately after by knocking over Chandler Parsons on the inbounds pass with 59.3 seconds left.
The Thunder looked like burnt toast at that point but an Anthony Morrow 3-ball cut a 6-point lead in half and the Thunder had a breath of life.
But by the then Mavs quiet crowd had become raucous and in the noisy din rookie forward Mitch McGary, who scored 12 points while pulling down 13 rebounds, mis-understood shouted instructions from the bench.
"Don't Foul!" coaches and players yelled, but McGary only heard the "foul" part, so he did. running straight to Monta Ellis and delivering an intentional foul sending Ellis to the stripe and ending the Thunder hopes.
McGary owned up to the mistake after the game, "“Yeah, just a mental mistake,” McGary said. “Gotta learn from it.”
Westbrook also used much the same theme, “Mental breakdowns,” he said postgame. “We gotta go back to the film.”
The Thunder defense broke down in the third quarter and then again late I the game. Playing without Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka will cause some problems and not being able to put defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins in has also created some holes.
But the offense and rebounding Enes Kanter brings (and he was great again in those categories last night with 19 points and 13 rebounds) can offset a lot of things.
Monday night though, a defensive lapse was costly again when Kanter was guarding future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, Kanter left Nowitzki to close out on Rondo who had an open look at a 3-pointer late in the game. Except that Rondo is not nearly the shooter Nowitzki is and as soon as Kanter left for the closeout, Rondo fired a pass to Dirk who splashed the three.
Kanter will get better on defense and so will Steven Adams and McGary. It's unfortunate that circumstances dictate they have to learn on the fly.
Surgery For Serge?
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka is in New York having his sore right knee examined and he could have arthroscopic surgery as soon as today. If all goes well Ibaka could be back in 2-3 weeks and be ready in time for a Thunder playoff run.
Of course the Thunder have to make the playoffs for that to happen.
KD Back Wednesday?
Kevin Durant has been increasing his workouts lately and now has been cleared for practice as he makes his way back from his second foot surgery. Durant could be back in the lineup Wednesday for the Thunder's game with the Boston Celtics, if not that game then Friday's contest against Atlanta would almost certainly feature the return of the reigning MVP and just in the nick of time at that.