Western Conference Quarterfinals (Best 4 of 7)
Mavericks (1-3, 1-1 road) vs. Thunder (3-1, 1-1 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
OKC leads 3-1
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 114.6 (3rd), Mavericks – 94.9 (11th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 94.9 (6th), Mavericks – 114.6 (14th)
The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered a bit of a scare after Game 4 in their series against the Dallas Mavericks. With his Flagrant-2 and ejection from Game 4, Kevin Durant faced the possibility of being suspended for Game 5. Luckily, he was only fined and will be in uniform for the Thunder’s game tonight. While the prospect of facing the injury-ravaged Mavericks without Durant isn’t that scary, the prospect of maybe having to go back to Dallas to play another emotionally-charged road game was. Not necessarily because I think we would lose, but because a myriad of variables could come into play on the road. How will the refs call the game? Will the bench production remain consistent? Will the refs allow physical play to continue on Durant and Russell Westbrook?
Within the specter of what was a very physical Game 4, was the fact that the Thunder, at least for this series, have become a complete team. No longer is it just Westbrook and Durant against the world. They now have 5 role players that are playing their roles to a tee. I like to call this collection of role players “The Middle 5,” because their featured in the middle mural sandwiched between tall murals of Durant and Westbrook on the Cox Convention Center across the street from the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Dion Waiters took the first quarter over, scoring 7 points, assisting on a Randy Foye 3-pointer, and blocking a Devin Harris shot all in the final 1:40 of the quarter. This allowed the Thunder to turn a 7-point lead into a 15-point lead heading into the 2nd quarter. In the third quarter, Steven Adams made his mark in the paint, scoring 9 points, grabbing 3 boards, and assisting on two Westbrook 3’s. In the fourth quarter, Enes Kanter’s 16 point, 3 rebound performance stymied any run the Mavericks tried to make throughout the final quarter. In addition to those three, Andre Roberson continued to play stellar perimeter defense, while Serge Ibaka continued to be consistent from the perimeter.
Is this now what we should expect from the Thunder from here on out? Of course not. One, two, or even four game samples are way too small to be bringing up the word trend. But ask any media pundit what worried them about the Thunder heading into the playoffs, and one of the top answers would be consistent production from players outside of their superstar duo. Well, four games in, those other players having been putting in their fair share. Even if it doesn’t continue at the level of having all 5 performing great, if the Thunder can consistently get production from 3 of the Middle 5, they will be a load for whatever team they face throughout the playoffs.
3 Big Things1. Enes Kanter
Outside of Russell Westbrook, Kanter has been the MVP of the series so far. For the series, Kanter is averaging 17.8 points on 73% shooting from the field and 8.8 boards in 22.5 minutes of action. His production per minute has been otherworldly in this series. This is the reason the Thunder matched Portland’s poison pill laced “max” contract offer. I put the word max in quotations because in two years (hell, maybe even next season), Kanter’s contract will likely seem like a bargain. But to have a 24-year scoring big that is seemingly fine with coming off the bench, you have to think that Presti made the right call on this one. If you want more reassurance, make sure you go ask Russell Westbrook how he feels about Kanter.2. Protect and Maintain
Protect yourselves and maintain your composure. I never really had any worries about the Memphis Grizzlies or San Antonio Spurs in terms of physical play and the possibility of causing injury. Both those teams are physical, but play within the confines of the rules and aren’t out to hurt anyone. Dallas, on the other hand, I’m not so sure. I could definitely see someone like Charlie Villanueva, Justin Anderson, or Salah Mejri upending or undercutting one of the Thunder players, especially in a close-out game.
At the same time, the Thunder need to maintain their composure. If the Thunder have visions of advancing past the 2nd round, then Durant and Westbrook need to be mindful of the point system in the playoffs against technicals and flagrant fouls. The NBA keeps a tab in the playoffs on the number of technicals and flagrant fouls a player amasses. If that number reaches 7, then the player will be suspended for one game. Westbrook’s tab is at 2, while Durant’s tab sits at 3.3. Close-Out Game
The most difficult game in a series is a close-out game that isn’t a Game 7. Here’s to the Thunder closing this series out tonight.
Overpassing – Instead of an opposing player, I’ve made overpassing the TK for tonight’s game. In an effort to match the production from the previous game, I could see the Thunder overpassing, trying to get everyone involved. With that overpassing comes the possibility of turnovers and desperation shots taken late in the shot clock.