Sometimes in the NBA, elite superstars can take over a game, and take their team across the finish line by sheer power of will and relentlessness. Russell Westbrook, despite what Mark Cuban says, is one of those superstars, and he lived up to that billing on Monday night, guiding the Thunder to an impressive late-game comeback over the Dallas Mavericks, 92-91.
“We were there,’’ Wesley Matthews said. “It was our game, and they took it.”
Or, more specifically, Westbrook “took it.’’
Westbrook has been on an unprecedented tear across the NBA since the beginning of the NBA season. He is on pace to finish as the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62 season. And considering the vastly different landscape of today’s NBA, it could quite arguably go down as the most impressive single-season feat in NBA history.
Monday night might have been one of the best performances of the MVP-level season for Westbrook, as his finished with 37 points, 13 boards and 10 assists, in what was his 37th triple-double of the year.
An out-of-bounds call towards the end of regulation will be dissected by DFW media, and will remain a controversial call. Same with a carry/travel from Westbrook in the late going.
Perhaps it was a foul on Westbrook, or perhaps not; perhaps it was a carry, perhaps not. But none of it takes away from the impact of Westbrook’s late-game heroics against the Mavs.
Thanks to Westbrook, the Thunder finished the game on a 14-0 run, sealing the comeback on his 16-foot jumper from the top of the key.
The Mavs were left trudging off the floor stunned having fallen to one of their toughest defeats of the season.
“It just happened so fast,’’ said center Nerlens Noel.
Without Seth Curry in the lineup, the Mavs overall offensive production struggled, with Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki combining to score just 18 points. The shortened Mavs bench, which went just four-deep on Monday, did combine to score 30 points, but it wasn’t enough.
“All of our bench guys were a plus,’’ Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Some nights the bench the plays well and the starters struggle, and vice-versa. (This) was a night when we needed everybody to play an even, consistent, hard-playing game.’’
“Even’’ it was not.
Though they won’t help mend the wounds of the loss, there were some bright spots for Dallas.
Noel continued to impress in his starting role, adding 15 points, eight boards, two blocks and four steals in yet another high-impact performance. His energetic play sends ripple effects throughout the rest of the roster, and has provided a much-needed boost to the Mavs’ starting rotation.
Yogi Ferrell also added a nice effort, with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and did everything he could against the overpowering Westbrook defensively. But as has been the case for most point guards across the NBA this year, Russ just proved to be too much to handle.
Matthews meanwhile, managed to somewhat break out of his shooting woes as of late, scoring 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting, though he was just 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.
So to the victor go the spoils, which included Westbrook’s dramatic celebration.
“I think emotions get into the game,’’ he explained, “and as you know I’m full of emotion and I love winning on the road and seeing my teammates celebrate.”
The home loss moves Dallas to 31-42 on the year, ending their four-game homestand on a sour note and guaranteeing itself a rare losing record on the season. The Mavs were just 1-3 since returning from Brooklyn, and will face another tough five-game road trip, starting with the new-look New Orleans Pelicans (31-42), on Wednesday.
Every game from here on out will impact the Mavs draft position. The hope, in our view, is that they can continue fighting hard while ‘organically tanking’ their way into drafting in the top 10, and landing an impact point guard prospect in the likes of De’Aaron Fox, or Frank Ntilikina, among others.