One mark of a good team is the ability to win in spite of itself. The shots don't always fall and the stars don't always shine, and sometimes even the best of teams have to win ugly. The Thunder did just that against the Mavericks on Monday night. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both struggled and the team as a whole seemed to be at odds with the rim, but Oklahoma City bushwhacked their way to the free throw line and locked down defensively in the second half to come back and beat Dallas 95-91.
After a close first quarter, Dallas pushed ahead to a big lead in the second. While the Thunder offense just kept rimming out shots, the Mavericks mounted a big bench effort to pound the ball inside and score around the basket. After Brendan Haywood succumbed to a turned ankle in the game's opening seconds, Ian Mahinmi stepped up and thrived in his place, scoring 13 points in the first half alone. Lamar Odom, in his second game back in action, was also effective off the bench and Rodrigue Beaubois was instrumental in Dallas's second quarter run. They led by seven at the break.
Oklahoma City came out of halftime in typical plucky fashion. They shut down Dallas defensively by cutting off lanes and barricading the paint, silencing the Maverick bench in the process. Though they never really strung together multiple made shots, the Thunder managed to put points on the board and eat away the lead by maintaining their attack and continuing to buy trips to the free throw line. The game remained close into the fourth quarter, when Dallas pulled ahead on what felt like some dagger three-pointers by Dirk Notwitzki. But Oklahoma City made one last stand that allowed them the room to creep back in and take the win. From Welcome To Loud City:
By way of three Dirk Nowizki clutch 3-pointers, the Mavericks took a four point lead with under three minutes to go at 91-87. From that point on, the Mavericks did not score again. Over the final 2 minutes and 46 seconds, the Thunder forced two turnovers (one of which was a 24 second violation) and four missed perimeter shots. The Thunder defense switched on everything, never gave Dirk a clean look again, and forced Terry into low percentage shots that he did not convert.
Those Terry attempts really were low percentage shots -- a pair of off-balance jumpers that seemed to splinter Dallas' offensive game plan. Dirk Nowitzki, who was available and mismatched on both possessions, appeared more than a little peeved after the fact. Nowitzki finished with a game-high 27 points.
All told, Oklahoma City never really got anything going offensively. Their defensive seriously improved in the second half, though, and they held a massive advantage at the foul line (29-33 versus 10-10) to crack Dallas. The win lifted OKC to 30-8 on the season and a sparkling 16-1 at home while Dallas fell to 22-17 overall.