Mar 6, 2012, 2:41 AM EDT
Oklahoma City has been one of the best teams in close games all season — when games are within 3 points (either way) in the last three minutes, the Thunder were 13-3 coming into Monday night.
Make that 14-3. Monday night they won another close one, this time beating the Dallas Mavericks 95-91 by scoring the final eight points of the game.
Over at Sports Illustrated earlier on Monday, Zach Lowe looked at the Thunder’s late-game success and said it has more to do with their defense than their offense (which can be predictable and stagnant).
In the last five minutes of games with a scoring margin of five or fewer points in either direction, teams before Saturday had shot just 30 percent (45-of-150) against Oklahoma City and scored the equivalent of just 85.8 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among all defenses in those situations, per NBA.com.
Monday night the Thunder did stop the Mavericks… well, except for Dirk Nowitzki. In the final five minutes of this game, Nowitzki shot 3-1, 3-0 from three. Every other Maverick was 0-4 in that same time frame.
Nowitzki’s third three in the final five minutes had Dallas up 91-87, but that is when the good shots stopped for Dallas. Look at their final possessions.
• A 13-foot Nowitzki one-legged fade away over Kendrick Perkins that rims out (a bad shot for almost any other player, not a bad one for Nowitzki).
• Nowitzki drives the lane, draws the defenders then dishes to the opposite wing where he thought Jason Kidd would be, except he was in the corner. Turnover Dallas.
• Kendrick Perkins had two great defensive plays late and this was one — off a pick he got switched on to Terry but stayed in front of the smaller guard and forced him into a tough shot that was airballed.
• Not sure you can credit the Thunder with great defense on the last Dallas possession, it was just bad execution. Terry drove the right side to the baseline, where he ran into a cutting Kidd, who caught the ball off balance and falling out of bounds, he threw it back to Terry, who tried a little jumper over Perkins again. It missed. Ballgame.
Nowitzki led all scorers with 27 points. Russell Westbrook had 24, Durant 22.
There are moments this season when you think maybe Dallas — or at other times the Spurs or Lakers or Clippers — could challenge the Thunder in the West. But when you watch OKC closing out close games with great defense and two of the best pure scorers in the game, you have to question that. You can pick apart the end-of-game Thunder sets or whatever you want, but nobody has this package of players. They are the best team in the West and legit title contenders. Unless somebody makes a big move before the March 15 trade deadline, it’s hard to see anyone else coming out of the West.
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