Injuries, Poor Defense, and Questionable Clutch Shots Sink Thunder on New Year’s Eve

Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes, right, knocks the ball away from Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, duringp the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. Dallas won 116-113. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Injuries, Poor Defense, and Questionable Clutch Shots Sink Thunder on New Year’s Eve

After a slew of clutch victories in December, the Thunder have now dropped two straight close games.

Officiating woes aside, the Thunder haven’t been able to deal well with injury adversity — first, losing to the Bucks without Paul George, and again the next game against the Mavs, losing 116-113 down Andre Roberson.

And, in times where it mattered most, their defense was sorely missed.

To be fair to the Mavericks, they’ve been on a hot spell lately, beating Toronto, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City in their last three games — all on the road.

But there’s simply no excuse to losing to a team that will almost assuredly be in the NBA draft lottery come next summer.

The young Mavs torched the Thunder defense, especially in the final quarter. Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavs’ rookie point guard, scored 11 of his last 19 points in the closing minutes of the game, including a pair of clutch three-pointers.

Russell Westbrook attempted to retaliate with a trio of threes at the end of the game but missed all three. Although this team has been at its best in clutch moments when Westbrook chooses not to defer, there has to exist a better shot than pulling up for three early in the shot clock.

Not that Russ would admit they were bad shots, at least to the media — even if they were.

His assessment? “We just didn’t get the stops we needed to,” Westbrook said.

Westbrook and the other two members of OKC’s big three had huge nights offensively despite their defensive struggles. Westbrook had already notched a triple-double by the end of the third quarter and finished with 15 rebounds and 11 assists.

Paul George, despite hardly shooting the ball in the final quarter, finished with 25 points. Carmelo Anthony scored 21 points. All three shot above 50% on the night.

Josh Huestis made the start for the injured Andre Roberson, and the dropoff defensively was palpable. Offensively, Huestis added nothing, sinking zero of his three shots.

Smith finished the game with 19 points and six assists. Harrison Barnes led the way for the Mavs, scoring 24 (4-of-6 from deep) and adding four boards.

And so the Mavericks sunk the Thunder with a combination of timely shooting,  poor shot selection from their opponent, and little to no resistance from OKC’s defense.

The Thunder finish 2017 with a 20-17 record. The Mavs improve to 13-25. Next up for OKC: a two-game stretch at the Staples Center, beginning on Wednesday against the Lakers.

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