(The Sports Xchange) - The Oklahoma City Thunder watched a 29-point fourth-quarter lead over the undermanned Dallas Mavericks whittled down to 14 before finally pulling away for a 108-89 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was a difficult game for everybody,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “They rested their guys, but like I always say, we can’t worry about what they’re doing. We can only focus on what we do on the court and play basketball.”
Kevin Durant scored 29 points to lead Oklahoma City. He shot nine of 14 from the field to go with 10 rebounds and four assists, while Serge Ibaka added 20 points and 11 rebounds as the Thunder improved to 28-12.
Playing without all five starters, the Mavericks were paced by J.J. Barea, who had 18 points and six assists. Raymond Felton added 14 points on three of 11 shooting as the Mavs fell to 22-18.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle liked the way his team competed under difficult circumstances and singled out Barea for praise.
“(Barea) is a walking breathing, stubborn, competitor. That’s why he’s been a really terrific 10-year player,” added Carlisle. “He’s not going to back down. The bigger the moment, the bigger the challenge, the more he is going to rise to it. I think we have a team of competitors.”
It took a couple of minutes for Oklahoma City to get themselves interested when the game started. Without Dallas having their normal cast of rivals on the court for Durant, Ibaka and Russell Westbrook to focus on, they came out with a lackluster look.
But the mismatches quickly started to become apparent. Felton was forced to defend Durant, who scored 11 points in the opening quarter.
The Mavericks had no players to turn to in order to change the tide. Barea tried to provide the needed offense and keep the contest close.
However, midway through the second quarter, Barea got tangled up with Westbrook and started a shoving match between the two teams and several technical fouls were issued.
“It was a regular foul, then (Westbrook) threw his arm, and then it went a little crazy after that,” Barea said. “I was there. I wasn’t backing down. He started pushing, I started grabbing, he grabbed me.”
The altercation just seemed to motivate Durant, who then hit a pair of three-pointers and threw down a dunk on rookie forward Justin Anderson.
The Barea-Westbrook feud flared up again late in the first half and Westbrook was hit with his second technical foul and ejected from game. However, the Thunder still led 65-42 at halftime.
“That’s how Barea is. He’s a chippy player,” Durant said. “I mean, he has to be that way. He’s the smallest guy in the league, one of the toughest guys in the league as well. So we knew he was going to try and add a little something to the game, but we did a good job keeping our heads.”
With Devin Harris injuring his foot and Charlie Villanueva ejected with two technicals, Dallas were down to eight players in the second half. Even without Westbrook to keep Oklahoma City’s offense humming, they were still too much for the shorthanded Mavs.
“We got it down by 29 and got it back to 12 or 14 and they had to bring their starters back in,” Carlisle said. “You have got to just keep playing and they did and I am proud of the way that our guys competed.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford