Game 1 - Oklahoma City Thunder 108 - 70 Dallas Mavericks
Game 2 - Dallas Mavericks 85 - 84 Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 3 - Oklahoma City Thunder 131 - 102 Dallas Mavericks
Game 4 - Oklahoma City Thunder 119 - 108 Dallas Mavericks
Game 5 - Oklahoma City Thunder 118 - 104 Dallas Mavericks
The Oklahoma City Thunder won its first series in the 2016 NBA playoffs by a margin of 4-to-1. It was the team’s first foray into the postseason since the 2013-2014 playoffs when the Thunder lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Much has changed since the Thunder’s last playoff appearance. Golden State was still an up and coming team that slid into the playoffs as a 6 seed. The San Antonio Spurs were the number one overall seed that season with Kawhi Leonard beginning to fully assert himself as the future of the franchise by winning the NBA Finals MVP. Oh, and some guy named LeBron James still had his talents resting in South Beach.
This first series was a hard fought one that got chippy on both sides. For two teams that are so close in geographic proximity, there was definitely no love lost. Kevin Durant was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected near the end of Game 4 for a slap to rookie Justin Anderson’s face. Justin Anderson himself received a post-game Flagrant 2 for his actions during Game 5 when he dove elbow first into Russell Westbrook’s face in the waning seconds of the game. Raymond Felton deliberately threw an elbow into Steven Adams’s side while Adams was attempting to block Felton out. It’s not Steven’s fault that Raymond Felton looks like, and is about the same height as, a Big Mac.
The Thunder overall played a strong series. In their four wins no game was closer than 11 points. The average winning margin for the Thunder over the Mavericks was 23 points per game. The one game that the Mavericks managed to steal from the Thunder was Game 2. The Mavericks took the game, in Oklahoma City nonetheless, by a narrow 85-84 margin. It took a historically bad night from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and a Steven Adams put-back that was 0.1 seconds too late to win on the road by just one point. In Game 2, Kevin Durant shot just 7-33 from the floor managing to scrape together just 21 points. Russell Westbrook was 8-22 for just 19 points; however, he did pull down 14 rebounds. This game was a fluke from the Thunder.
The real games to look at in the series are Games 1 and 3. The first game blowout makes sense looking at it in hindsight. While nobody predicted a 38-point blowout, everyone expected the Thunder to come out amped up. It was the first playoff game in 2 years and the Chesapeake Energy Arena was pumping. The Thunder could have come out nervous, but the core group of guys – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison – who were on the team during the 2012 NBA Finals run were not going to allow that. This season’s roster includes many young guys who had never previously been to the playoffs. Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and Anthony Morrow are the biggest names who have never been to the postseason. Along with them, the rookies, Cameron Payne and Josh Heustis, have also clearly never been.
Enes Kanter has been to the playoffs one time previously following the 2011-2012 season. However, this season is Kanter’s first extended exposure to playoff basketball. In 2012, his rookie season, he played four games in which the Utah Jazz were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Kanter played just over 10 minutes per game that series. Kanter posted a double-double in his debut scoring 16 points, and grabbing 13 rebounds, while shooting a ridiculous 7-10 from the floor. The playoff rookie shooting guards – Dion Waiters and Anthony Morrow – did not fare as well in their debuts. The two combined for just 11 points on 2-12 shooting.
The most encouraging sign from this game was the defensive intensity with which the Thunder played. They limited Dallas to just 70 points – a season low. Through the regular season the Mavericks averaged 93.8 points per game. The Thunder did well to force Dallas to miss shots. The Mavericks shot just 29.8% from the floor in Game 1 and just 22.2% from beyond the arc. This is the defense the Thunder needs in order to compete with the Golden State Warriors if the two teams meet in the Western Conference Finals.
In Game 3, the Oklahoma City Thunder offense absolutely erupted. The team scored 131 points tying a season high. The Thunder put 131 on two other teams this season. Both times occurred in wins on Dec. 29, 2015, against the Milwaukee Bucks (131-123) and on Feb. 9, 2016, against the Sacramento Kings (131-116). Game 3 saw Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook assert their dominance as two of the top players in the NBA. Durant scored 34 points in 37 minutes, while shooting 11-25. Kevin Durant shot 44% from the floor and that feels low. I think the guy is doing something right. He also grabbed 7 rebounds. Westbrook pitched in 26 points and 15 assists. Dallas did manage to slow down Westbrook’s rebounding abilities though. The Mavericks prevented him from pulling down a rebound in the game. The last time that happened was this preseason against Fenerbahce. The last time it occurred during a game that counted was April 17, 2013, against the Milwaukee Bucks when he played just 7 minutes.
Kanter turned in another great game. He scored 21 points on 8-10 shooting, pulled down 8 rebounds, and blocked a shot, all in just 22 minutes of game time. This was a breakout game of sorts for Dion Waiters too. After shooting a combined 4-17 and totaling just 13 points in Games 1 and 2, Waiters broke out for 19 points on 7-11 shooting in Game 3. He even made 4 of his 8 3-point attempts. Waiters continued to play well through the end of the season logging double digit scoring nights in Games 3, 4, & 5 and shot 50% or higher in each of the three games.
This is the type of offense the Thunder will need to bring if they want to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Serge Ibaka was absolutely huge in this series. The Serge Ibaka that showed up against Dallas was the Serge Ibaka that Sam Presti chose over James Harden. Ibaka finally looked like a member of the Big 3 for OKC again and it was refreshing. He was consistent through the first four games of the series, with a dip in Game 5. In Games 1-4, Ibaka averaged 15.25 ppg, 7 rpg, and 1.5 bpg. He shot 71.4% from the floor and 66.7% from 3-pt. range. Ibaka looked confident through theses games. Game 5 was a terrible regression. He scored just 2 points (made 2 free throws) and failed to score a basket in the run of play. Serge Ibaka always shows up in a big way for Oklahoma City when playing the Spurs in the postseason. He will be a crucial component to the Thunder’s chances for success in the conference semifinals.
Forever and always, Thunder Up!