Rick Carlisle pointed to the great defense played by his Dallas Mavericks squad as the key to Saturday's 93-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He immediately mentioned the 87 points put up by the Thunder as the indicator, nearly 15 points below their season average. The 36% shooting and 1-17 from three point range would seem to support his contention. But a closer look at the game as a whole would basically place this loss on the lack of efficiency of the Oklahoma offense, from shot selection and to the absence of necessary spacing which allowed easy double teaming and eliminating open shot opportunities.
A more noticeable point would be that the Thunder started the game sloppy, turning the ball over 6 times in the first quarter, limiting their shot opportunities early and allowing the Mavericks to gain a 25-12 advantage, which it nursed throughout the ballgame. For the remainder of the game, the Thunder only had an additional 8 turnovers, playing aggressive defense in their own right and losing the second quarter by one point 25-24. In the second half, the Thunder won the third quarter 20-18 and the final quarter 31-23, obviously holding Dallas to only 41 second half points. The Thunder's defense was actually stronger than Dallas in the second half. The 20-37 shooting by Dallas in the first half was stymied to 16-45 in the second half. In holding on to a six point victory, Dallas was held to 12 points below their season average.
Let's face it, this was an ugly game that experience won, but defense was not the key. The young guns found the basket to be very small early, dug a first quarter hole that they could not dig their way out. Spacing and rushed shots delivered a horrible shooting night and down the stretch time ran out on the host club. In the end, Westbrook had one of his best shooting nights of the playoffs with 30 points on 8-20 shooting and 13-14 from the line, but his floor management was weak dishing only 4 of the team's 6 total assists for the night. Dirk and Kevin cancelled each other with poor shooting evenings both only making 7 field goals each on 21 and 22 shot attempts respectively.
The Thunder were far from the team that has risen rapidly to a Western Conference Championship contender. They were sloppy with the basketball, did not make the extra pass and they failed to follow the Scott Brooks pattern of inside out offensive rhythm. Carlisle says it was defense, observation says it was youth and too much comfort with being home, and "shell shock" when shots didn't fall early. And by the way, with several statistical factors being close, the Thunder had 9 blocks to the Mavs' 4. Game 4 should go to the Thunder and the Oklahoma marketing staff might want to try a "White Out" rather than a "Blue Out" to allow the home team to feel at home psychologically.