Despite being a team composed of Dirk Nowitzki plus some future Guys To Remember, the Mavericks beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City tonight and took back home court advantage in their opening round series. The Mavs have Steven Adams’ slow release to thank for that, as well as Raymond Felton’s chubby exuberance and Justin Anderson’s endless athleticism. But above all else, Kevin Durant’s inability to hit anything kept them in it and allowed them to steal Game 2.
Durant led all Thunder players with 21 points in 44 minutes of work, and he hit all five of his free throws and that’s the full extent of nice things I can say about Durant, because, good lord, he was dreadful.
Wes Matthews was Dallas’ primary defender on Durant for most of the night, and he held him to 7-for-33 shooting. Durant had as many turnovers as made shots on the evening, and he was 2-for-20 outside the painted area. His 26 missed shots tie Michael Jordan for the most in a playoff game since 1984.
The Thunder were down two with under 30 seconds left, when Durant had an open jumper out of a timeout. He clanked it, missed the subsequent follow-up, then his man (Matthews) got the rebound and sped the length of the floor to kill the Thunder for good.
To be fair, many of Durant’s teammates were also butt tonight. Russell Westbrook shot 8-for-22, which isn’t all that bad, but he let Raymond Felton score 21 and lost him at the worst possible time at the end of the game. OKC’s bench mostly got pushed around by Dallas’ trio of Salah Mejri, Justin Anderson, and Devin Harris (one cool Dion drive aside).
Dallas won, but they didn’t even play particularly well themselves, and all Durant had to do was not be historically dreadful and the Thunder still win this game. The Mavs don’t have much in the way of offensive dynamism, even if Felton goes off, and Oklahoma City is big enough that they should grab the lion’s share of the rebounds (which they did tonight). They’re a better team, and they match up well with Dallas on paper.
Wes Matthews is a tenacious defender, but he’s still half a foot shorter than Durant and a year off an Achilles tear. He is the type of strong, positionally sound defender that tends to give Durant some trouble, but matchups alone don’t explain why Durant was so bad tonight. He had plenty of open looks, including the two crucial misses at the end.
Durant probably won’t take a shit on the court like this again in the playoffs, and OKC, for all their problems, still had a great chance to steal this game at the end. Dallas has no choice but to defend Russell Westbrook with a combination of Deron Williams, Ray Felton, and prayer. But Rick Carlisle is a playoff wizard, and if he can coax Durant into melting down like this again, Dallas could really push this series.