Thunder's offense grinds to a halt in 106-103 loss to Mavericks
Dallas took the lead too easily. Out of a timeout, rookie guard Jalen Brunson went past Paul George, forcing Steven Adams to rotate. Mavericks forward Dwight Powell had an easy dunk. That wasn’t the main issue.
On the next possession, Russell Westbrook drove and passed to nowhere. He meant to dump off to Adams, but it was a failed play in a congested area. The Thunder still had two more chances to go ahead late, but Dennis Schroder missed two 3-point looks.
Even that wasn’t the issue.
In the Thunder’s 106-103 loss to the Mavericks on Sunday, OKC’s seventh in its last 10 games, the Thunder’s offense may have hit a new low for ineptitude. Why? Look no further than a 40-year-old future Hall of Famer.
Dirk Nowitzki’s seven points on 2-of-10 shooting weren’t the difference in the game. A poor finishing 1-of-8 start to the first quarter in which the Thunder trio of Westbrook, Paul George and Adams all missed layups can quickly explain OKC’s offensive slog.
The Thunder’s lack of being able to take advantage of Nowitzki’s presence on the floor, however – particularly in isolation – quickly became a microcosm of the game and its season.
"We’ve got to play for 48 minutes," said Schroder, who shot 3-of-11, 1-of-6 from 3. "Everyone, including me, defensively and offensively. We’ve just got to do it together."
The Thunder collectively shot just 38.8 percent from the field and 15-of-29 (51.7 percent) within five feet of the rim. The Thunder shoots 60.3 percent from five feet and in for the season. Sunday’s percentage would have been worst in the league by a mile.
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Tied 75-75 in the third quarter, the Thunder worked to get great matchups and responded correctly, driving at the 7-footer. Schroder and George were each isolated against him and went to the rim.
Schroder allowed Nowitzki to block him from behind. George had Nowitzki backpedaling and missed a scoop shot. The Mavs scored the last five points of the quarter.
The Mavericks were 14 points better than the Thunder with Nowitzki in the game. He pulled down a season-high 13 rebounds when his previous high was seven, even snagging an offensive rebound over Markieff Morris to help the Mavericks win the rebound battle 52-49.
Urgency applies at the offensive end, as well.
"I don’t know," Schroder said as to why the Thunder isn’t playing a full 48 minutes with the playoffs two weeks away. "We got out and didn’t execute, didn’t do it defensively in the first half. In the second half we came out and were doing good. We’ve just got to do it for 48."
The Thunder can talk about having urgency all it wants. Its offense struggled with the task of breaking down a player who’s essentially immobile.
Thunder guard Raymond Felton said he couldn’t answer why OKC struggles to exploiting mismatches with regularity.
"Sometimes you’ve just got to make shots," Felton said. "Simple as that."
If the Thunder is on the same page about one thing, it’s the message coming out of the locker room.
"The ball sometimes doesn’t go in the basket," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "Even coming down the stretch, I thought our guys got some fairly decent looks to close the game out. I thought Russell found Jerami (Grant) on the underneath the baseline there and they did a good job of moving the ball to find some threes that just didn’t go down.
"What happens is this is why we’ve got to be a defensive team first."
The Mavericks made 10 of its first 18 3-point attempts before the Thunder tightened up to keep them to 6-of-26 the rest of the way. But that wasn’t the issue, even if Donovan said the 3-point line hurt the Thunder the most.
"We’re playing hard; things are just not going our way right now," Felton said. "Unfortunately, it’s toward the end of the season, but we’ve still got five games to clean it up before we get to the postseason."
When the Thunder gets to the playoffs, there won’t be 40-year-olds standing in its way.