By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
The Dallas Mavericks have thrown everything they can at Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Durant’s thrown a couple things at the Mavs) but all that’s done is empower Thunder bigs Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and backup guard Dion Waiters to have huge games.
"They're playing a junk defense where they're loading up and doubling," Durant told reporters. "When a team plays us like that we have to move the ball and Russ did a great job of finding guys and we spaced the floor very well (in Game 4).”
Westbrook had 15 assists, many of those to Kanter who scored 28 points on 12-for-13 shooting. Kanter’s Player Efficiency Rating against the Mavs is an off-the-chart 37.9, better than anyone else still playing. His offensive rating (the number of points a team would score per 100 possessions while that player is on the court) is an even more off-the-charts 154.2.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was uncomplimentary about Kanter’s accomplishments, “He’s bottom-feeding off their great players,” he said after Saturday’s game.
But Westbrook, who pushed for Kanter to be Sixth Man of the Year, has continued to praise him during this playoff run.
“He’s been doing a great job all season and it goes unnoticed,” Westbrook said. “The stuff he does is unbelieveable.”
Some of Ibaka’s numbers have been even more impressive in this series. His offensive rating is a mind blowing 174.7 to lead all other players. Kanter’s previously mentioned 154.2 is second. Ibaka’s effective field goal percentage (adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than made twos) is an NBA playoff leading 82.9. Kanter’s is fifth at 74.3.
Westbrook has been the key to the Thunder spreading the floor and creating space, giving the interior players a lot of easy open opportunities. Kanter is shooting 73 percent in the series, Ibaka 71.4 and Adams 61.9. And Waiters got hot in Dallas shooting 68.8 percent in the two victories there.
“I just try to find guys and get them open shots,” Westbrook said today after shootaround. “I just read and react.”
Westbrook has had two straight 15-assist games in Dallas, he averaged just 8.5 assists in the first two home games. His turnovers have also dropped on the road.
“In the playoffs you can’t turn the ball over as much, especially on the road,” he said. “So you gotta take care of the basketball and not give a team any extra possessions.”
Adams says it’s important for the Thunder to come out with the right mindset tonight and be ready to finish things off.
“We’ve gotta make sure we match their energy, the focus has got to be high, the attention to detail.”
The Mavericks will again be short-handed tonight. Point guard Deron Williams didn't make the trip, he may have to undergo surgery to repair his abdominal strain. Forward David Lee has also been ruled out with a foot injury. Center Salah Mejri and point guard J.J. Barea are questionable. Dirk Nowitzki did not participate in Mavs shootaround today but is expected to play tonight.
Both Adams and Westbrook agreed, closeout games can be some of the toughest a team will play.
“Yeah closeout games are the hardest,” Westbrook said. “Obviously (the Mavs) don’t wanna go home and we wanna move on so we have to get our minds and our bodies right, come out and take care of business.”
Adams answer was a tad more colorful when it comes to how difficult it can be to end a series.
“I don’t know if you guys have ever trapped a wild animal,” he looked around at all of us gathered around and continued, “well you guys probably haven’t, but I have and it’s not a fun thing. They come out wild and attack you and do stuff that they don’t usually do.”
But pressed further Kid Kiwi admitted the trapped wild animal he was talking about was a cow.
“Yeah I had this cow in a corner, and you know they’re usually scared of you, you can pet them and stuff, but yeah this one just kinda ran me over.”
Adams, Westbrook and the Thunder will try their best to make sure the Mavericks don’t have the same kind of success tonight.
Tipoff is set for 7:10 at The Peake. You can see the game either on Fox Sports Oklahoma or on TNT. We’ll be there for full coverage also. Follow me on Twitter @RandyRenner for live updates from the arena beginning at about 4 o’clock and you can also check for live coverage on our Twitter feed page. Postgame blogs and videos will be available also with comments from both the Thunder and the Mavs.