The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Dallas Mavericks 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 5, 2012 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

Screen Shot 2012-05-05 at 11.15.33 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Oklahoma City112.058.026.717.613.4

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • You know what they say: If you’re going to lose a winnable series in four games, at least go out in an exhibition for one of the game’s most fantastically understated players, supplying the wood for his buzzsaw in what one can ultimately assume will be a daunting display of razor-focused finesse and craftsmanship. James Harden (29 points, 11-16 FG, 3-4 3FG, five rebounds, five assists) gets a raw deal because the public’s attention span can only extend to two star teammates at a time, but he’s far too good to be relegated as some distant third, and far too lethal to be ignored, even for a second. Dallas tried a number of coverages from a variety of directions in the fourth quarter, but none of it mattered — Harden attacked from the same point on the floor at the same angle, repeatedly bludgeoning the Mavericks with his own unique grace. And, as an important extension: credit upon credit to Scott Brooks, who afforded Harden the opportunities he needed without the slightest interference. Harden keyed the offense and out-dueled Dirk Nowitzki, all because his teammates agreed to spot up from the perimeter, because his coach saw an opening and exploited it, and because he’s a ridiculously difficult pick-and-roll cover.

  • All of that said, Nowitzki (34 points, 10-25 FG, five rebounds, four assists) was far more than just another foil. This was the first game of the series in which Dirk flirted with last year’s disregard for the impossible; Serge Ibaka had done a terrific job of staying grounded on Nowitzki’s fakes in the first half, but once Dirk began nailing fadeaway after fadeaway after fadeaway, even that newfound discipline couldn’t spare him. Nowitzki finished with 34 points that felt more like 50. He created, built up, and sustained every bit of a lead Dallas could garner, and though he ultimately was a degree removed from the celestial form that guided the Mavs to last year’s title, one can only admire his performance, his poise, and his effort. It’s been a pleasure watching this man in action — in this season as in all seasons.
  • I’m not sure this game provided any real ground for ingenuity aside from the fairly predictable revelation that giving the ball to Harden does great things for the OKC offense, but Rick Carlisle and Scott Brooks turned to some pretty strange lineups in their efforts to keep their respective teams humming. For the Thunder, I suspect most were fairly weirded out by the grouping of Harden, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, and Daequan Cook — a combination that would make shockingly little sense in a vast majority of basketball contexts, and posted a single-game defensive rating of 195.0. For Dallas, we saw more minor maneuvers; Jason Terry’s insertion into the starting lineup, the closing group consisting of Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Delonte West, and Shawn Marion, etc. Those strange brews will only be footnotes of footnotes of Dallas’ final bow, but as part of a fun, competitive game, they added some particular flavor.
  • For the briefest moment, it looked as though Dallas’ ball movement had finally broken open the series. The Thunder defense was completely overloaded, and the Maverick shooters feasted from the weak side. Kidd was aggressive. Terry was creating. West, Vince Carter, and Ian Mahinmi were all part of something very real and, hopefully, very sustainable. Dallas finally saw the numbers for the code, and picked apart the Thunder with a startling precision.
    And then, just as quickly as that barrage of three-pointers and impressive shot creation came, it vanished. It wasn’t just Harden that downed the Mavs; OKC completely rebooted their defense mid-stride, and once they cut off Dallas’ offensive access points, they were off to the second round.
  • Shawn Marion posted up Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Collison, and Thabo Sefolosha, and completed a successful possession (with a made bucket, an assist, or a drawn foul) against each. Dallas finally went back to establishing Marion on the block, and although he did short a much-needed hook-runner-thing late, the fact that he was able to supply any shot creation along with his again outstanding defense was a gift. I remain convinced that Marion could have provided more of an offensive impact had he simply seen more opportunities in the post, perhaps to an extent that could have changed the outcome of the first two games of this series. I don’t aim to overblow one minor aspect of Dallas’ offense, but considering how fine the line has been in this series at times, it’s worth considering if even the most slight of offensive tweaks might have brought us to a different end. It wasn’t meant to be and we’ll never know for sure, but there was a bittersweetness in seeing Marion — even if he finished with just nine points — finally allowed to unleash the aspect of his game that stands out as the most profoundly weird and oddly consistent.
  • Russell Westbrook finished with just 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Derek Fisher finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with this alternate reality we’ve stumbled into.
  • Andrew

    Many people think that when Marion is on the floor, one is trading defense for offense.  Maybe this is part of why Carlisle was willing to bench Marion at times in order to play Carter.  However, as we saw in this series (and as we have seen through the past couple years of Marion being a Maverick) is that he is actually a very good finisher around the rim and can create for himself when put in optimal position.  Why Carlisle didn't utilize Marion more offensively is beyond me.

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  • Matt Hulme

    Everything depresses me at the moment.

    I know we (I use the term “we” in endearment; I know I am in no way affiliated with the team or organization) weren't supposed to beat the Thunder, or anyone this playoff season, for that matter, but never did I imagine they'd be SWEPT out of their title defense.

    I know they lost three excruciatingly close games, and if Durant's heavily contest, lucky-bounce-of-the-ball-in-defiance-of-the-ball's-properties-and-logic had fallen absolutely any other way, this entire series would be thrown to the wind in the most unpredictable of patterns, and yet, it did bounce in. We did blow the lead. And we blew the lead in game two.  And we got circumcised in game three. And blew it in the closing moments at home, facing elimination, in game four.

    So yeah, it sucks, but yeah, the 2011-2012 Mavericks deserved their fate. Any of the so-called “magic” from the majestic prior was gone, faded away like the Big German's form in the early stages of this season. It wasn't our year, I tell myself. Better things will come with time. But this is at best a half-truth. We have, what, four players under contract next season? Our endgame, as it has long been known, is to land a top-five point guard in Deron Williams, to share the load with the venerable Dirk Nowitzki.

    But, the fear lingers like the cloak of Death as the playoffs march on without us; what if we don't sign Deron?

    What's the backup plan? The fall back? Was this wasted title defense season all for naught, or do we, and will we, see greatness once more in 2012-2013? The Dallas Mavericks are the oldest team in the NBA. Our best player will be 34 in June. Our second best player is a tobe-35 year old defensive machine with an interesting jump-stop shot. We won't resign our second best scorer, simply because we cannot afford him. Our next best defensive stopper is an injury-prone yet exciting guard who's price tag is surely to land him on another roster. Our other expiring contracts are a muddled mess of past-their-primers, waver-wires, and decently effective-for-their-draft-position bench pieces.

    This is an old dog with fewer and fewer teeth, and more of a whine than a bark. Time is not our friend. This must be THE off season of change, of progress, or motion toward youth while maintaining the former status quo of Championship contention, and not just the illusion of it.

    The fans won't stand for it, and neither will our superstar. Don't paint an old car and call it new, Mavs organization. Shoot us straight, and we'll trust you better for it. More importantly, your franchise star and the backbone (and heart, soul, mind, and muscles) of over a decade of success has earned it. We deserve straight answers, but Dirk deserves better.

    Until we see that progress, that change, that solution to the (pun intended) age-old-question, I do fear the Reaper. Don't waste the twilight. Go out with a bang, and build for the next great adventure.

    • Andrew

      I am definitely upset that we were ousted in the first round but maybe you are being a little tough on the ownership.  Mark Cuban has spent alot of money to keep this team a championship contender for a decade now.  He gave Dirk the pieces to win a champioship and, with that end in mind, he is taking a calculated risk.  Realizing how old this team is, Cuban is rightly thinking about the future.  We have to ask how long Chandler can remian an elite defensive player, he is in his 30's.  What happens when we sign him to a six-year contract and then in 2 or 3 years he turns into Brendan Haywood?

      That being said, I would have liked Cuban to Re-sign Chandler and Barea.  That being said, I really doubt this team every had it in them to win another championship.  Last year was insane and really improbable.

      • Matt Hulme

        Sorry about the delayed response, Andrew. I think you may have misunderstood my point. I wasn't saying resign the old team, nor was I saying that Cuban has blown up our current one. Not at all. I've always advocated going after a big name star, specifically a young, elite point guard. I'm just asking the tough questions.

        I don't think I'm being any tougher on ownership than any other fan should be. EVERY fan should be worried about the future of this team. Look, I ove Mark Cuban as an owner (how could I not?) and Donnie as GM, but you have to admit this was one sorry title defense.Work toward the future, absolutely. But don't do it unless you can assure you'll put those pieces in the right places. I'm completely on board with the plan, just as long as every GOES according to plan this summer. If we don't land D-Will (it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that we're not getting Dwight, though I'll certainly keep my fingers crossed), and we can't flip Haywood (and likely, Roddy) for another center or other pieces, then what?I'm not saying that Cubes and Donnie won't get it done, I'm just playing devil's advocate in the off-chance things don't work out, we don't land the parts we hoped for, and we're worse off than we were in any previous year in the Nowitzki era. That's a REALLY glass-half-empty way of looking at it, and I don't believe it'll BE the outcome.But as a fan, I have to at least consider it, and judge team ownership/management accordingly. Not that it carries any weight, but it's all a part of being a fan.  Building toward something.  Constantly.  And not missing out on capitalizing on the twilight years of the greatest player to ever wear a Mavericks' uniform.