With franchise cornerstones Kevin Durant and Jeff Green out with injuries, Russell Westbrook and the last-place Oklahoma City Thunder could easily have been overlooked by any team.
The Dallas Mavericks might not be so quick to dismiss their neighbors to the north the next time.
Westbrook had his first triple-double of his rookie season with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and midseason pickup Nenad Krstic added a season-high 26 points as the undermanned Thunder beat Dallas 96-87 Monday night despite playing without their two leading scorers.
“I think we’ve got to prove something every night, honestly, and tonight I think we did a good job of coming out and playing as a team,” said Westbrook, the franchise’s first player with a triple-double since it moved from Seattle in the offseason. There were 13 others who had triple-doubles when the team was known as the SuperSonics, most recently Earl Watson (23 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) on Feb. 6, 2008, at Sacramento.
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas’ charge back from a 23-point deficit, and his 3-pointer from the right wing got the Mavericks back within 88-84 with 4:13 to play. Those were the last of his 28 points, and Dallas didn’t score again for 4 minutes.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was upset the Mavericks were down that much in the first place, perhaps because they underestimated a Thunder squad without Durant (sprained ankle) and Green (back spasms).
“I just thought that the first three quarters were just a pitiful display for a team that has aspirations to be in the playoffs and try to move up in the standings,” Carlisle said. “We’ve seen this before, too many times.
“We (mess) around for two to three quarters and then we want Jason Kidd to bail us out with steals and hustle plays and fast-break opportunities. It’s just too much to ask.”
Kyle Weaver, who answered Nowitzki’s final 3-pointer and then added a runner to help Oklahoma City stop the comeback, finished with a career-high 18 points and Thabo Sefolosha added 15 points.
Jason Terry scored 20 points for Dallas in his second game back after surgery on an injured finger. The Mavericks played the second half without Josh Howard, their third-leading scorer, after a troublesome left ankle flared up again. He missed 11 games earlier this season because of the injured ankle.
“His ankle was bothering him at halftime, so he couldn’t go any more. That was that,” Carlisle said.
With Howard out, the Thunder’s makeshift lineup put together an 18-3 run early in the second half and went up 68-49 when Krstic put back Westbrook’s missed 3-pointer with 5:43 left in the period. A technical foul against Carlisle allowed Oklahoma City to push the lead to 20 for the first time, and the Thunder led by as much as 79-56 when Damien Wilkins hit a 3-pointer in the last minute of the third quarter.
It looked like the Thunder would hardly miss Durant, who wore a walking boot on his right foot, or Green, who remained in the training room at the arena.
“A lot of guys stepped up, not really taking their place, but just stepped up doing what they needed to do,” Westbrook said.
Krstic had his highest scoring game since December 2006, when he was in his third season with the New Jersey Nets. An injury helped spell the end of his run with the Nets, and he wound up in Europe, where the Thunder found him and signed him as a restricted free agent in December.
“Without Jeff and Kevin, it was a great opportunity not just for me but for everybody else,” Krstic said. “It was a good win for us.”
Terry finished the third quarter with a 3-pointer, and that started Dallas’ comeback.
Nowitzki, who had two of his four 40-point games this season against the Thunder, scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to make it close. He missed a 3-pointer that would have again closed the deficit to four after Weaver’s 3-pointer, and then committed two fouls in frustration in the final 3 minutes.
Playing against Kidd—the NBA’s modern triple-double master—Westbrook needed a strong final flurry to get his 10th rebound and assist.
He got the assist on Krstic’s two-handed jam that put the game away at 95-84 with 44.9 seconds left, then grabbed an airballed 3-pointer by Terry for his 10th rebound.