Defense Still Shaky At Times But Thunder Beat Mavs Anyway

By Randy Renner

There were several times when it looked like the Thunder would run away and hide from the Dallas Mavericks Wednesday night and if the Thunder could just find that magic consistency they’ve been searching for on defense all season maybe they would have.

OKC had double digit leads several times Wednesday night and led by 22 in the fourth quarter but every time the Thunder sprinted in front the Mavericks would reel them back in.

Even with those defensive lapses at times the Thunder will take their 116-103 win and be darn happy about it.

The Mavs had a big run in the first half to erase a Thunder lead and then answered a 15-0 OKC run to start the fourth quarter with a 14-0 run to make it close again. Kevin Durant threw daggers into the Dallas hopes at the end of the first half with a 35-foot swisher at the buzzer and he dropped in another one from long range to end the Mavs threat late in the game. Around those runs the Thunder actually played much better defensively than what we’ve seen the last couple games, holding the Mavericks to just 40.7 percent shooting overall.

“We played good defense all night long,” Durant said. “They have a good team so they’re going to make runs, especially at home. We did a great job of limiting them in the paint and making them shoot a lot of jump shots. They got to the free throw line a bit in the second and third quarters, but outside of that our defense did great.”

Shooting guard and defensive specialist Andre Roberson was back in the lineup and that seemed to help.

“It felt great going out there and competing with my teammates, and we got the win,” Roberson said. “Chemistry, rotation-wise, minutes – that all plays a factor into a team … We rely on each other heavily.”

Durant and Russell Westbrook led OKC with 24 points. KD also had eight rebounds and six assists while Russ added 13 helpers and seven rebounds.

Thunder bigs Steven Adams and Enes Kanter had impressive nights too, especially Adams who scored a career-high 11 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 15. He also had seven rebounds and a couple of blocks. Kanter dropped in 14 points and pulled down nine rebounds.

Dion Waiters broke out of his recent slump, scoring 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting overall and 4-for-6 on threes.

“He handled himself well in terms of trying to go out there and do his job and do things he can control,” head coach Billy Donovan said of Waiters. “Part of the reason he had a good night tonight was because he didn’t worry about his shooting but worried about playing the right way and playing well and he did a good job tonight.”

Donovan switched some things up with his rotations, staggering the rest periods for Durant and Westbrook the entire game so that one or the other was always on the floor. Donovan has done that once in a while this season, usually in the second half of games but this was the first time he’s done it from start to finish.

To pull it off he pulled Durant for two short stretches in each half, rather than the customary one longer rest period. Donovan has been talking with Durant and Westbrook about the strategy for the last couple of days in practice.

“With Kevin being so great offensively, you don’t want to break rhythm,” Donovan explained when asked about his decision. “He’s been great in terms of always wanting to do what is best for the team and when we talked about it the last couple of days he wanted to try it. He was all for it. I give him a lot of credit.”

Donovan wasn’t willing to say if this is the strategy he will follow the rest of the season and typically he’s changed his approach based on matchups with certain opponents so things could swing back the other way tonight in New Orleans but judging by the results in Dallas you’d think this would be something Donovan would like to continue doing.

The Thunder play the Pelicans tonight at 7 in a game you can see on either Fox Sports Oklahoma or TNT. We’ll post our Gameday blog a bit later today.