Tuesday is unusual territory for a TNT double-header, though the Mavericks and Thunder marked the occasion with a thriller. Through the end of regulation no run went unanswered; neither team claimed a lead of more than 10 points at any stage, leaving the game to be tipped with just a few possessions in either team's favor. Dallas ultimately won out -- a few made shots, a few defensive scrambles and a few clean looks from beyond the arc wound up making all the difference in a 128-119 final.
• This game made for riveting basketball beyond the potential playoff preview. The NBA settles in as the nation's second-most prominent basketball attraction every March, but Tuesday's game between the Mavs and Thunder was worthy of center stage. These two teams could well meet again in a seven-game series, but if the seeding breaks the other way -- or if Dallas dips out of the top eight -- they'll at least have these 53 minutes steeped in playoff atmosphere. There's a real spark in this matchup; the mainstays on each side are all too familiar at this point, giving their every meeting a beautiful blend of mutual respect and surliness.
It didn't hurt that the margin in this particular game was close throughout. The biggest individual performances naturally stand apart, though in the play of Dirk Nowitzki (32 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, six turnovers) and Kevin Durant (43 points, six assists, five rebounds, five turnovers) we only find a fraction of the game's story. Jose Calderon was given too much room on the perimeter far too often, and hit six of his nine long-range attempts to complement his eight assists. Reggie Jackson's calm shot creation helped stabilize the Thunder offense, which was otherwise a bit rocky when Russell Westbrook flew off the rails. Vince Carter went unattended on the weak side a few too many times, Derek Fisher continued his improbable relevance and Samuel Dalembert found occasion to give the Mavs some decent minutes.
In total, 13 players between the two teams hit double figures in scoring -- a balance that came from a mutual defensive scramble. Neither team was at its best in coverage, though with defenders flying around the court to crowd particular threats and force the ball into the hands of lesser ones, role players on both sides were put in a position to decide the game. Ultimately the score was kept close through completed plays rather than botched ones -- an overtime affair for all the right reasons.
"I can't complain about anything we did tonight, said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "We have a philosophy where we play hard and give everything you have. I'm proud of our guys, but [it's] unfortunate we didn't come out with the win. You can't win them all, but you can give great effort every game."
• Shawn Marion's commendable defensive work is proof of the futility in guarding Kevin Durant. The league is painfully short on players with the length, quickness and defensive chops to cover Durant, if only because few humans on the planet fit that description. Over the past few seasons Marion has been among that select few, and though he hasn't been so effective against Durant as to stop him outright, Marion is still pesky enough to cause trouble.
That task gets harder with each passing season, as Durant steps deeper into his prime and Marion drifts further away from his own. In Marion's defense, guarding Durant this season is something of a fool's errand. Covering a player with that kind of range and handle is a possession-to-possession nightmare, and it's to Marion's great credit that he approaches that responsibility with the utmost discipline. The man does his best, which makes him better suited for the job than the vast majority of the league.
"Marion's got a tough job," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He's guarding the best scorer in the world. It's just a hard deal for him and he was able to make some key buckets, too."
Still he suffered many of Durant's 43 points on 26 shots -- a brutal total for a defender like Marion to stomach. He stayed down on KD's pump fakes, contested jumpers perfectly, and slid over as best he could to cut off Durant's drives. There's only so much that could really be done at this point, even for one of the most accomplished and versatile defenders of the past decade.
• The vortex of video review killed any chance for the game's momentum to carry through to the final buzzer. This is a crowded soapbox, but every exciting game that detours into video review after video review stands as evidence in itself of a flawed process. The NBA has already toyed with the idea of taking replay responsibility out of the hands of the on-site officiating crew, which one can only hope might speed up the process of closing out a tight game.
It's good for the officials to be right, particularly when one call -- even one with several possessions still remaining -- can swing the course of a game. But this is a sore spot among fans for a reason: It puts a damper on the hyper-competitive proceedings of a close game, an occasion that should showcase the league at its finest. That's lost in the current system, which begs for change.
As a counterpoint, Carlisle understandably preferred that the officials err on the side of accuracy.
"The plays and the reviews are really worthwhile," Carlisle said. "From the one angle that was showed on the board it looked like Carter hit the ball off the Thunder player's hand, and it did. So they looked at it -- they looked at it from six different angles and it turns out they got it right. Then the play in front of [our bench] was off Calderon. You've gotta get those plays right. They did the right thing there. It takes some time, but if you don't check it you're going to leave something to chance and thats a big part of the game."
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