After entering Thursday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder minus Dirk Nowitzki, Wes Matthews, Deron Williams, and J.J. Barea, the wounded Dallas Mavericks were going to have a very difficult test ahead of them ... especially due to the triple-double machine that is Russell Westbrook.
Thanks to the injuries (and in Dirk's case, the rest), the Mavs were forced to deploy a youthful lineup that included heavy minutes from Pierre Jackson, Nicolas Brussino, and Dorian Finney-Smith, among others. Despite this disadvantage, the youngsters fought hard. But Westbrook just wouldn't be stopped, as he lead the Thunder to a 109-98 win in Oklahoma City.
“It was a tough way to try to win the game on the road,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. "But I loved the way our guys competed.''
Dallas actually held the lead going into the half, when a Finney-Smith three-pointer beat the buzzer. But in the third quarter, OKC finished with a 34-18 advantage (thanks in large part to Westbrook), and never looked back.
Westbrook’s rage fest on the NBA this season has been well documented. He has 23 triple-doubles in 47 games, 34 double-doubles, and is averaging 30.7 points (which leads the NBA), 10.4 assists (second in the NBA), and 10.7 rebounds (11th in the NBA) per game. He also has an insane 29.29 PER rating and is doing it all with a post-Kevin Durant roster that, outside of himself, is largely mediocre.
That rage continued against the Mavs on Thursday, as Westbrook exploded for 45 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes. He shot 16-29 from the field (that’s 55 percent for the kids counting at home), and was 4-8 from beyond the arc.
Westbrook also helped the Thunder ice the game, scoring 17 points points in the final quarter, and quelling any sort of comeback the Mavs had in mind.
Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams also contributed 17 points and 15 points, respectively, while Domantas Sabonis added 10. (Of note: Enes Kanter broke his arm while punching a chair in frustration. Ouch.)
The Mavs on the other hand, just had too much youth and inexperience on the floor to keep up with the determined Westbrook. Harrison Barnes led the Dallas effort with 31 points on 50-percent shooting, while Seth Curry added 11, and Justin Anderson contributed 17 points (his third double-digit scoring effort in a row) off the bench.
Here's Rick on Simba:
As for the rest of the youngsters?
Dorian Finney-Smith (41 minutes), Nicolas Brussino (22 minutes), Pierre Jackson (13 minutes before he was forced to exit the game), and Dwight Powell (14 minutes), all saw more than significant action throughout the game.
Finney-Smith drew the unenviable task of checking Russell Westbrook for a good portion of the game, scoring 11 points with five rebounds and four steals.
Outside of the loss, the real shame about Thursday’s game was the loss of Pierre Jackson. In the second quarter Jackson, who was in the midst of a very impressive performance in his first NBA start, pulled up limping with an apparent hamstring injury, and didn't return to the game.
For a guy who has scratched and clawed his way to finally make it on to an NBA roster, and is playing on his second 10-day contract, this injury had to be excruciating. Jackson has been a hard worker and model teammate during his stint with the Mavs, and hopefully, this injury is nothing more than a bump in the road of his NBA journey. Indeed, it's worth noting that this entire group of Mavs seems at least to have the "basketball soul'' that Carlisle has talked about and that DB.com has written about. (A timely observation, we think, as we watch from afar as Rajon Rondo helps yet another team self-destruct from the inside-out.
Said Barnes of his Mavs: “To be able to just battle and to have that spirit, it’s not really something you can teach. It’s not really something you can coach. You either have it or you don’t. And I feel like the guys that have been out there every single night have been out there fighting and giving it their all. Over the long haul, that’s going to pay off. … That effort, despite the adversity, will pay off in the long run.''
Following the loss, the Mavs (16-30) take Friday off and then will head into arguably the most difficult back-to-back that any NBA team will face this season. They head to San Antonio on Sunday before coming back home to face the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night at the American Airlines Center.
For now though, the hope for Dallas is gaining some health for Wes Matthews and others in time for the gauntlet on the horizon.