Before Game 5, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Russell Westbrook is “an All-Star but not a superstar.” After Westbrook scored 36 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the Thunder’s 118-104 victory at Oklahoma City on Monday to end the first round playoff series 4-1, Kevin Durant responded to Cuban’s comments during the postgame press conference by saying “He’s an idiot.”
It was a completely on-sided series. It took Durant and Westbrook, who have each scored over 30 points in the same playoff game nine times in their careers, shooting like they lost their talents to the Monstars from Space Jam in Game 2 for the Mavericks to win by a millisecond. What gave it the feel of a rivalry was how intense and physical the games were, despite the league distancing themselves from physicality and moving further and further towards finesse.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle called out the Thunder for their “physical” play on Friday. He targeted Durant specifically for what he perceived to be a dirty play in the third quarter of Game 3, where he elbowed rookie reserve center Salah Mejri in the chest while trying to get the rebound on a free throw. Mejri then turned into the basketball equivalent of a hickey goon in Game 4. At one point, he tried to grab the ball from Westbrook’s grasp while the star Thunder point guard was in the bench. Then he gets into it with Serge Ibaka and even continues with Durant and Westbrook until eventually injuring his right hip.
Meanwhile, all the other Mavericks were flopping so frequently and flagrantly that the fans could’ve played a game of Bingo with flopping NBA players. No Mavericks player was a thorn on the Thunder’s side than Charlie Villanueva. Not because of his dominant play on the court, but because he was constantly getting in the way of Westbrook and rookie Cameron Payne’s pre-game dance ritual. Villanueva, who played 19 total playoff minutes, once choked out Westbrook back in January.
“Now he gets to go home and do whatever he needs to do, get ready for next year to sit down and watch 82 more games like he did this year,” Westbrook said.
While the first round has ended, we can’t help but think when the career of Mavericks icon Dirk Nowitzki will end too. The 18-year veteran from Germany is as synonymous with Mavericks’ brand of winning as team owner Mark Cuban and the redesigned logo that came with him.
Since Cuban bought the team in 2000, the Mavericks have missed the playoffs only once. Think about that: With Nowitzki as the face of the franchise, a team that prior to have experienced rare instance of success, won more conference championships than missed the playoffs all together.
In a way Nowitzki was Durant before Durant, a tall but slender forward who is known for his sharp shooting ability. It was a sight to behold to see Durant and Nowitzki in the playoffs for a likely final time. At the same time, it was also sad that while Durant is younger and supported by a buddying superstar and three centers who can provide plenty of points and lead the league in rebounding, Nowitzki is left to his own devices because of a lack of a substantial and sustainable supporting cast. That doesn’t deter the wily veteran, who is willing to go down like King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae.
“I signed on for three years a couple years ago,” Nowitzki said. “My intention was always to finish this contract. I always said I wanted to retire [with] the Mavs, especially after we won the championship a few years ago. There’s no reason to go anywhere unless the Mavs are rebuilding. I always said that the last couple of years, I’d never want to be a part of rebuilding. Next season, I’ll be 38. As long as we go for it and every summer we add guys and keep competing, then I’ll be a Mav for the rest of my career.”
Oklahoma City takes on San Antonio in the second round. The Spurs are the consensus pick to challenge the defending champion Golden State Warriors for the Western Conference title. The two teams have contrasting styles along with their contrasting stars. Stephen Curry is a shiny show stealer while Kawhi Leonard prefers to work in the shadows and dominate from there. The Thunder are somewhere in the middle and are very excited an ready for what could shape up as an instant classic.
“I just like our mindset,” Durant said. “Mentally we have to be prepared. This is a solid team that we’re playing so we have to be solid and disciplined.”
“We are about to face a very veteran and solid team,” Andre Roberson said. “They play together. They play great defense. We got a tough task at hand and we will be ready.”
“Obviously, they are a great team, well coached team and they are going to test us,” Nick Collison said. “I think the ability to play every play, be engaged every play is key for us, because they are going to test us. They run a lot of actions, it’s difficult to guard, and they aren’t going to beat themselves.”
The Thunder have the highest rebounding rate and second highest offensive efficiency in the league. Meanwhile, the Spurs have the highest defensive efficiency in the league. The two teams have won both of their home games during the regular season series. The Spurs have home court advantage so for the Thunder to take the series, they will have to be perfect at home and take at least one on the road.