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Late surge from Thunder not enough, drop to Mavericks 87-78

With All-Star weekend rapidly approaching, players (like it or not) are revving up for their much needed break. For Mavs guard Luka Doncic, his break started a little early, sitting out on Wednesday (back soreness.) The Dallas Mavericks showed no signs of slowdown without their star, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 87-78. The Thunder now sit at 14-21 on the season, currently locked in a tie-up for the 12th seed in the conference. The Mavericks capped out their first half of the season strong, hoisting up an 18-16 record as the 8th seed.

Dallas out the gate operated smoothly without Luka Doncic, using solely inside shots and free throws to claim an early 13-7 lead. Darius Bazley had none of it — firing off 5 straight points to lead an 8-0 run. Lead changes became the standard early, taking Dallas every second to grind out a 25-23 margin. Rim Protection remained pivotal in the first as Dallas ousted the Thunder 14-6 in the paint while converting on 3 more free throws. Oklahoma City’s saving grace came from downtown, burying 4-of-10 tries to Dallas’ futile 1-of-12 shooting.

The second quarter hosted a slugfest for the entirety of the 12 minutes. Neither side took any commanding lead, with the biggest advantage coming at the end of the half — a 7-point 49-42 lead  to the Mavericks. Shooting slumps remained with both teams as the Thunder shot 1-of-10 on triples to Dallas’ blank 0-of-7 penmanship. The only needle-shifter lied in turnovers. Oklahoma City coughed up 7 turnovers in the period, leading to 12 free points.

Kenrich Williams commanded the Thunder troops in the first half, sneaking around the floor for a team high 8 points (all came in a span of 7 minutes. The Mavericks dialed their attention to wings Josh Richardson and Tim Hardaway Jr., who racked up 11 points each. 

This game shifted into a penetration contest, with both teams almost refusing to pull from deep. The night’s first real momentum shifter came 6 minutes into the quarter when a series of Mavericks layups and interior stops rooted their first double-digit lead of the game via a 7-0 run. Matters only worsened for Oklahoma City when Dallas spurred on to their spurt with a collective 18-4 spurt. It appeared Dallas started wrapping a bow on the game, however a strong 7-2 Thunder closer shrunk their deficit to 75-61 leading into the fourth.

Being down 14 with almost nonexistent productivity on offense, Oklahoma City needed a perfect quarter to steal this game.  Their search for buckets led nowhere, cashing in just 3 points in the first three minutes of run, setting themselves up for a 20 point hole that became too much to overcome. 

Neither side managed to post quality numbers from the field, going for field goal percentages in the 30s while shooting in the low 20s from beyond the arch. The decisive factor from Wednesday night was Dallas’ ineptness to convert on free throws, shooting 15-of-19 (78.9%) to Oklahoma City’s 11-of-17 (64.7%.)

Kristaps Porzingus and Tim Hardaway Jr. did the heavy lifting for Dallas amassing 19 points a piece, while guards Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson cracked 16 and 11 respectively.

The Thunder tallied their season-low of the year with 78 points, though their late game heroics to erase a 22 point deficit to just single-digits should be commended. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the team in scoring — but the third-year guard only netted 15 points. Pressure has been riddled on the 22-year-old since returning from he injury, forcing difficult looks that cashed in 5-of-15 times. Ty Jerome continues to be Oklahoma City’s golden boy, completing his 3rd regular season game with 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. The sophomore’s fluidity in play has made his jump to NBA play seamless. His use of dribble-drives to post quick layups, and poise from downtown (3-of-4 FG) has caught opposing sides off guard to this point. Darius Bazley picked up another double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, yet his 3-of-11 outing leaves some more improvement for their next match. Theo Maledon lived up to his World Team selection Wednesday with 11 points (5-of-10 FG) chipping in 3 rebounds. The rookie put his penetration game on a pedestal, as his 1-of-5 three-point shooting forced him down low. Al Horford slid in 10 point of his own (5-of-12 FG) to couple with 4 boards and 2 blocks. Horford may be in cruise control gazing on to his vacation days as the 34-year-old was off on all three of his deep-range tries. Justin Jackson looked to make a splash against his former team but ultimately shot 0-of-4 for no point output.

Amongst all other things from Wednesday, the Thunder’s month-long 20 assist streak is out the window — only scrapping 13 for the game.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (14-21) will have a chance to start another streak tomorrow as they complete their first half of play against the San Antonio Spurs (18-13.)

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