Best In West: Thunder's Size Tells The Story
The Oklahoma City Thunder made a statement Monday, taking a measure of revenge for last year's playoff defeat, and beating the Mavericks for the third time in four games this season 95-91.
Dallas was admittedly shorthanded, playing without Brandan Wright and Brendan Haywood, whose night was ended by an ankle sprain, just 31 seconds into the game. Ian Mahinmi played well in Haywood's absence but the Mavericks were simply overwhelmed on the interior.
Thunder big men Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka were the eye of the bumping, chucking, high-flying, disruptive storm. They combined for 21 rebounds, 9 at the offense end, 7 blocks, and a bushel of menacing stares. More than just inside force, they kept Dallas off balance all night, squeezing their empty space and rushing them through their sets.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 27 points, but had to work for every single one of them. He struggled to get to his spots below the free throw line, and in the end resorted to floating on the perimeter, attempting six 3-pointers.
The Mavericks did a great job defending Kevin Durant, holding him to 22 points on 6-for-18 shooting with 7 turnovers. But they couldn't keep the Thunder off the offensive glass and couldn't keep James Harden, Durant and Westbrook off the line. In the end digging themselves a 19-point hole at the free throw line meant that forcing the Thunder into tough shots was moot.
Neither team played well down the stretch, but the Thunder made the plays they needed to win. The Mavericks' final seven possessions netted them as many turnovers as points, three, and showed a surprising lack of offensive cohesion. The Thunder scored on five of their final seven possessions, netting 10 points, just one of which came from Durant.
The Thunder are particularly frightening because of the three-headed monster they unleash at the offensive end of the floor. But if they can also win consistently with stout interior defense and intestinal fortitude, on a night when those three offensive stars combine to shoot 16-for-49 from the field, then the rest of the league has a whole lot more to worry about.
Ian Levy's work appears on the TrueHoop network's The Two Man Game
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
MVP: The reigning MVP. After losing to Indiana in January, Derrick Rose said he "can't wait to play" the Pacers again. Apparently he could -- until the second half. After shooting 1-for-9 over two quarters, he dropped three 3-pointers -- and all Pacers' hopes of victory -- in the third quarter.
X factor: John Lucas III. While Chicago's starters shot 5-for-24 in the first half, Lucas came up big off the bench to keep the Bulls down just one at the break. He dropped nine points in five minutes and got one momentum-building steal.
That was convincing: If there was any confusion surrounding the pecking order in the Central Division, it has been erased. In Game 5 of their first-round series last postseason, Chicago proved Indiana was a nuisance, not a rival. Tonight, they resent that message.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Portland won this game on the defensive end, and Marcus Camby's 16-rebound performance set the tone. Thirteen of those boards were defensive, and he added two steals and two blocks.
That was encouraging: It remains to be seen whether Raymond Felton is back to his normal self following a stint on the bench and a slew of trade rumors, but he had a fine performance Monday night, logging a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists.
Defining moment: The Hornets started the third quarter hot and closed the gap to three, but the Blazers blew it open shortly thereafter with a 19-2 run to permanently shift the momentum.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Arron Afflalo wins the battle of the 2-guards, scoring a career-high 32 points, including three clutch free throws with six-tenths of a second left in regulation that sent the game to overtime.
X factor: Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried, starting in place of the injured Nene, played out of his mind. The Morehead State product scored a career-high 20 points, hitting 7-for-9 from the field and 6-for-7 from the line. Faried also chipped in a game-high 12 rebounds in the Nuggets victory.
Defining moment(s): There were two defining moments in this one: Afflalo's three free throws that sent the game to overtime and Ty Lawson's 3-pointer with four seconds remaining in the extra frame that gave Denver the win. This was definitely a huge night for the Nuggets' young backcourt.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins were havoc incarnate. Their hyper-active swarm netted 21 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass and seven huge blocks.
X factor: The Thunder shot just 38.2 percent for the game, but had a 19-point advantage at the free throw line. Their ability to initiate contact in the paint kept the offense afloat on a tough shooting night.
Defining moment: Dallas was discombobulated all evening. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry running into each other on the baseline during the Mavs' final offensive possession summed up their execution down the stretch.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Kevin Love hit half of his 3-pointers on his way to 39 points to go with 17 boards. He also hit some clutch jumpers and a nice hook late to seal the game for Minnesota. Just a dominant performance.
That was unexpected: With the Clippers trailing by three points with five seconds to go, Derrick Williams fouled Chris Paul on a 3-pointer. Paul, an 85 percent career foul shooter, drained the first two, but clanked the third.
LVP: The Clippers struggled all night on offense, and a key source of frustration was Caron Butler. He went 0-for-6 from the field and didn't score a point, resulting in a benching in favor of D-League call-up Bobby Simmons.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Big Al Jefferson. Jefferson punished the Cavs' miserable inside defense with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and added seven assists and three blocks for good measure. Jefferson's signature jump hook from the left block was money all night, and he was able to step out and hit jumpers at will to keep the Cavaliers' defense honest.
LVP: Tristan Thompson, who had a grand total of three points in 22 minutes and shot 1-for-6 from the floor. Thompson almost exclusively uses his right hand when he shoots flip shots off the basket -- since Thompson is a left-handed shooter, that would normally be a good sign, but in Thompson's case, it just means he has two hands that he can't score with. Worth noting: The No. 3 (Enes Kanter) and No. 4 pick (Thompson) in the past draft combined for five points on 2-for-12 shooting.
X factor: Offensive rebounding. The Jazz have a lot of size, and used it to advantage on Monday night, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds while the Cavaliers only managed to snag 23 defensive boards.
3. Monday's Best
Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Love went for 39 points and 17 rebounds in a 95-94 win over the Clippers. Love bagged half of his 10 3-point attempts. The Wolves moved over .500 at 20-19. If Love keeps this up, they might not spend much time on the wrong side of .500 for many years to come.
4. Monday's Worst
That's So Wizards: Rashad Mobley of Truth About It summed it up best, noting how Wizards big man Andray Blatche was first out-jumped by 5-foot-9 Warriors guard Nate Robinson for a defensive rebound. Then N8 sprinted the length of the court and drained a 3-pointer. The Verizon Center fans then showered Blatche with boos.
5. Tweet Of The Night
6. Quote Of The Night
"This is my time right now."
-- Wolves forward Kevin Love. Any arguments?
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Dwight Stuff Too Much
MVP: Dwight Howard was unstoppable offensively. There wasn't much Aaron Gray, Jamaal Magloire and the Raptors' defense -- as a whole -- could do to slow down Dwight from scoring on dunks, layups and hook shots.
Defining moment: With the Magic up by two points with the score at 87-85, J.J. Redick made a clutch 3-pointer in the right corner with 9.8 seconds left in the game. That gave Orlando enough cushion to hold on for a narrow win.
That was almost costly: Although Dwight had 36 points on 16-for-20 from the floor, he missed seven free throws in the fourth quarter (4-for-14 from the free-throw line for the game). That allowed Toronto to come back and nearly steal a victory.
9. Jennings Sinks Sixers
MVP: Brandon Jennings scored 19 in the first quarter, proceeded to do absolutely nothing till he netted a layup with three minutes left in the third, then finished on a tear. He scored 33 points, many late and rally-quashing.
That was a wakeup call. The Sixers, despite their gaudy scoring margins and boxes of love letters from the analytics community, just aren't that great at winning games. After Monday's loss, they're 2-8 in the last 10, 0-7 in games decided by four points or less, and their once substantial lead in the Atlantic is down to 1 1/2 games with the hard-charging Celtics looming on Wednesday.
X factor: After getting a starting nod for the first time in 2012, Evan Turner uncorked one of the season's truly bizarre stat lines. The sophomore grabbed 12 rebounds, but was brutal on the offensive end, shooting 1-for-12. Here's a hint about how Doug Collins interpreted the performance: Turner was conspicuously absent from the floor in crunch time.
10. Warriors Take Charge Early
MVP: Monta Ellis. Ellis can score in his sleep, so his 25 points in 29 minutes are nothing to get excited about. But Ellis' four assists in the first quarter -- along with his 14 points -- set the early tone for the Warriors.
LVP: Jordan Crawford. In 23 minutes of play, Crawford went 2-for-13 with just five points, and on at least two occasions, waved John Wall away so he could shoot yet another errant shot. Conversely, Steph Curry played just nine minutes and scored 12 points.
X factor: Ekpe Udoh. Udoh finished with 17 points, but 11 of those came in the first quarter, when he thoroughly outplayed and outhustled Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee. Monta Ellis even took a break from scoring to find him.