By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Here’s how bad things were for the Dallas Mavericks Saturday night, a little more than halfway through the third quarter they trailed 44-43.
They trailed just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook 44-43.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Add in the rest of the Thunder players and the overall score at that point was 77-43.
Hello and goodnight.
Thunder 108, Mavericks 70, was perhaps the loudest statement in these playoffs and it was the largest margin ever in a Thunder playoff win and the second worst playoff loss ever for the Mavs.
“It’s disappointing,” said Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki then he looked hard to find a bright spot. “I guess the only positive I take out of this is it’s only one game. If you lose by two or by 50 it’s only one game.”
But if you lose by two there’s plenty of reason for optimism going into the next game. You get your collective heads handed to you and get pounded by 50? It’s hard to find any optimism, heck it’s hard to find any hope at all.
Turns out the Mavs never were actually down by two or 50. A Serge Ibaka 3-ball put them down three 45 seconds into the game and OKC’s biggest lead was by 44 when Randy Foye hit a three with 2:20 to play but I don’t mean to quibble.
And speaking of Ibaka...welcome back Serge, we sure have missed you.
Ibaka hasn’t seemed to be quite himself for much of the season, all his numbers, offensively and defensively are down. But last night he was a Mavs Menace all night scoring 17 points, on 7-for-8 shooting overall and 3-for-3 on threes. He also cleaned the glass for nine rebounds, blocked three shots and altered who knows how many.
“When he’s knocking down that jump shot it opens it up for us on the offensive end,” Durant said. “And on defense he was helping and protecting the rim and spreading the floor. He was good and we need him to be even better next game.”
Now, just for fun, let’s go back to that 2-on-5 game KD and Russ were playing...
With 4:43 left in the third Durant and Westbrook had combined to go 14-for-30 overall and 4-for-13 on threes. Not exactly a spectacular night for the dynamic duo but everyone wearing a Mavericks uniform had combined to shoot 15-for-55 overall and 1-for-11 on threes.
It was as if the Dallas goal had been moved a couple blocks east to Bricktown and all night long the masonry just kept being chunked up there. The Mavericks ended up making just 29.8 percent of their shots.
Some of it was the result of some shots simply not falling, but a lot of it, maybe most of it, was the result of the energy and determination the Thunder showed on defense.
All together it was as dominating a performance as you’re likely to see in the NBA playoffs. So dominating Billy Donovan wanted to make sure he tapped the brakes just a bit on exactly how good this game was.
“Our defense was good but I also know they’re a terrific shooting team. They got some good looks that just didn’t go down, we were a little fortunate there.”
Sometimes you make your own fortune and the Thunder kept coming up golden because for one of the few nights since the 2015-16 season began they totally sold out on defense, laser focus, intensity, arms and hands everywhere.
The Mavs were missing shots because it’s darn hard to make a basketball shot when you can’t get away from the guy(s) guarding you long enough to take a breath much less set your feet.
“We did a good job scrambling, making it tough on those guys,” said Westbrook. “We played that way the whole game.”
And that’s the other thing, no more of that fourth quarter silliness. None of that giving an inferior team the idea they could possibly hang close enough to have a shot toward the end. The end came early for Dallas and then the Thunder just kept piling it on, leading by 17 in the first quarter and by 30 in the second, then by 42 at the end of three.
“I’ve got to get these guys better prepared to play, that’s pretty clear,” said Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle. “I’ve got to do a better job getting them ready for Game 2.”
And you can bet Donovan and his coaches will point out some flaws in the Thunder’s game, 18 turnovers, not a great night shooting (45.0 percent), an even worse night shooting (30.7 percent) after grabbing an offensive rebound.
After a historic playoff blowout win some might call that nit picking and maybe it is. But Donovan and his Thunder would much rather be picking at nits than picking up the pieces like Carlisle and his Mavericks.
You can watch the postgame news conferences of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Billy Donovan and Rick Carlisle by clicking the video tab in the top right corner of the page.