The hopes going in? Hopes of improving on their league-leading record of 10-1 away from home, claiming their eighth consecutive road victory, and getting a fifth straight overall. They would do all three. Yet ...
Let's go First Impressions on Dallas 103, OKC 93:
*With 9:10 still on the clock in the second quarter, Dirk drilled another on a long list of improbable shots, drew the foul and converted the free throw to put the Mavs up 42-to-36 … only it wasn't the shot clamoring for our focus.
Before the free throw could ever take place, Dirk remained on the ground for a moment, grasping at his right leg. There was no substantial contact on the play. No foot sneaking its way beneath his to turn an ankle. Just the continuation of a play Mavs fans have seen hundreds of times.
Only this time the toe of his right shoe seemed to stick momentarily to the floor, causing his foot to slightly buckle. At that moment, it appeared to be an ankle issue.
Is it odd that this led to a small sense of comfort? After all, how many times have we seen Dirk bounce quickly back on sore, or worse, ankles?
This time, word came back that it was a sore knee and The UberMan's return was "doubtful."
Dirk left with 13 points in 11:32 minutes and would not return … just two points from catching Gary Payton at the 24 spot on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
"I've been having a little issues with that leg, and, I don't know, I guess I couldn't really that leg anymore … I may have strained a little muscle in my knee, in the back of my knee," Dirk said after the game. "We don't really know more yet. We did X-rays and everything looked good. I've got an MRI (Tuesday) morning at 9."
And with cautious breath, all Mavs fans await the news coming in the a.m.
*With no Dirk, with no Brian Cardinal (ill and unavailable to backup Dirk), with Tyson Chandler battling foul trouble, with Terry shooting only 1-of-9 for three quarters … the Mavs found themselves down only two to enter the fourth quarter.
As has been the trend, this was the stage for the defense and Jason Terry to shine.
And, the trends marched on.
*The Thunder came into the fourth shooting 30-of-63 (47.6 percent). More than half of the quarter would pass before OKC converted their first field-goal attempt, a Jeff Green tip-in.
There was JJ Barea drawing two big charges. Shawn Marion flying around the court pestering any who dared near his defensive space. Jason Kidd and Terry capitalizing on the opportunities that presented themselves. Brendan Haywood and Alexis Ajinca doing their jobs in the paint. And, once he returned, protecting them all was Chandler's Heart-and-Soul Food lurking as a safety net for the perimeter defenders, changing shots and forcing Thunder players to foul to keep him off the glass.
OKC would shoot 4-of-18 (21.4 percent) from the floor in the game's deciding period as the Mavs suffocated the life from a two-point deficit to take the quarter 24-to-12 … and usher in a 10-point win.
*As for Jason Terry:
He entered the fourth shooting 1-of-9 shooting for two points.
He exited the fourth with 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
Doing a little quick math, you'll find he had 11 points in the period on 5-of-8 shots.
To go with those 13 points were eight assists …
*One trend that continued, but under the flag of a different name, was a dominant offensive third quarter by a single player to keep the Mavs afloat. So often we're writing Caron Butler's name here, but Monday night it was Shawn Marion.
For the quarter, Marion went 6-of-8 for 12 points … almost exclusively as a cutter in the paint. His activity kept the offense alive and set the table for the defense and Terry to feast upon in the fourth.
Marion finished with 20 points on 10-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds.
*The only player to top Marion's scoring output was Caron Butler, who helped fill the void left by Dirk's absence with 21 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.
In the closing minutes, the Mavs shifted the offense to an isolation game for Butler. Though his individual contributions in terms of points over this stretch were less than desired, he did manage to hit one big shot and not allow the Mavs to give away the lead they had forged.
*Should we ever get tired of what Tyson Chandler is offering this team? To be as concise as possible: No.
His help defense changes the game and the defense is constructed with his constant voice as its anchor. Whatever hype has found him is deserved … that he stands behind Yao Ming and Andrew Bynum in the All-Star voting is a crime against the game of basketball.
Chandler finished with seven points, 10 rebounds, one steal and one block, and they all seemed to directly affect the outcome of the game.
In particular, his block came with 1:30 left in the game on penetration from Russell Westbrook … leaving the ball, and the Thunder offense, trapped outside the rim … in this case, lodged between the rim and the backboard.
Fish said it on the FS Southwest postgame show, and I'll say it again: Tyson Chandler is as late-game "clutch'' as any player in the NBA – it's just that he's "clutch'' on the unusual end of the floor.
*In a bit of a surprise, it was Alexis Ajinca who took a few minutes as the backup power forward in the second half … not Ian Mahinmi.
Though the thicker Nick Collison in the paint pushed him around early, ‘Lex did swish a 3-point shot and adequately filled the role asked of him.
*Brendan Haywood was the only Mav to play and not register a point.
*With their leading scorer and best player left in the locker room for the majority of a game against a tough opponent on the road, the Mavs sucked it up and address their gut-check head on … and found themselves worthy.
This was a hard win under harsh circumstances … and it will all seem a little empty should the MRI bring the worst news on Dirk's ailing knee.
And so we wait. … while feeling this win was filling.