Thunder weathers Mavericks’ record run in ‘weird’ 126-120 win

Thunder weathers Mavericks’ record run in ‘weird’ 126-120 win

The Thunder gave up 30 straight points Saturday night in Dallas… and won. “All we could do was try and win the next four minutes,” Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. Here’s how OKC did it.

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

| Dec 3, 2023, 8:35am CST

Brett Dawson

By Brett Dawson

Dec 3, 2023, 8:35am CST

DALLAS — Mark Daigneault wondered if it was a record. Figured it had to be. 

The Thunder coach — like most any rational person — found it unlikely one NBA team had ever scored 30 consecutive points against another, given all the calamity that would have to befall the club on the receiving end. 

“It’s probably a record for a team that lost, too,” Daigneault said after Oklahoma City beat the Mavericks 126-120 on Saturday in a game that defies description. “It’s not a lot of 30-0 runs happening and losing the game. So to win despite that is obviously crazy. It was a crazy game.” 

He went on to call it “a weird way to win.”

Crazy? Weird? Let us count the ways:

  • With 11:09 to play in the fourth quarter, the Thunder led 111-87. 
  • Over the next 5:09 of game time, the Mavericks outscored OKC 30-0 to take a 117-111 lead. 

(Asked afterward to put that run into context, Thunder forward Jalen Williams said, “Damn, it was 30?”)

(It was.)

  • During that stretch, OKC shot 0 for 8 from the floor, didn’t get to the free-throw line and committed five turnovers; Dallas shot 13 for 16, including 6 for 8 from 3-point range. 
  • The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic — whose fiancee on Friday gave birth to the couple’s first child, daughter Gabriela — scored or assisted on 27 of the 30 points in the Mavericks’ run, part of a 36-point, 15-rebound, 18-assist night. 
  • After all that, the Thunder outscored the Mavs 15-3 over the final 4:18 to win. 

And in some ways, that’s only scratching the quirky surface of Saturday night at American Airlines Center. 

There was the Thunder’s Davis Bertans scoring 15 points on three field-goal attempts (3 for 3 from 3-point range, 6 for 6 from the free-throw line; he was fouled twice shooting 3s). 

There was OKC, the NBA’s second-worst rebounding team, winning the battle of the boards 50-47 despite two Mavericks grabbing 15 or more rebounds. 

There was Dallas’ Derrick Jones Jr. — who entered the night shooting 3.9 3-pointers per game — launching 12 triples and making six. 

But nothing compares to the overwhelming oddity of that 30-0 run. 

According to the NBA, it’s the longest of its kind since 1996-97, which is as far back as the league’s play-by-play data goes. The previous record was a 29-0 run by the Cavaliers against the Bucks on Dec. 6, 2009. The Cavs won 101-86.

“Obviously a lot has to go wrong offensively and defensively” to give up that kind of run, Daigneault said. 

The Thunder’s defensive rotations were not sharp, he said. OKC fouled too much. The Mavericks got absurdly hot. 

“And then offensively, that’s where we need to be better,” Daigneault said. “We got to keep the scoreboard moving to withstand defensive breakdowns or hot shooting.”

OKC couldn’t, and the result was the kind of “perfect storm,” Daigneault said, that can make something historic happen. 

But for all the fixation on that run — it was, in fairness, impossible not to fixate on — Daigneault praised his team for withstanding the punch and still having a counter. 

“If you’re tied or down six with… four to go, it feels like a game you can win,” Daigneault said. “But when it’s on the heels of a run like that, it’s hard to get present. And to the credit of the guys, they got back where their feet were, strung together good possessions on offense, good possessions on defense, and we were able to come out with a win.”

Intangibly, some of that comes down to togetherness. 

“We preach tight huddles,” said rookie guard Cason Wallace, who set career highs with 15 points and six rebounds. “So I feel like that’s what got us through that stretch. Just staying together and having that mindset that we can still win the game.”

But there were tangible changes too. 

Rookie center Chet Holmgren didn’t have his best offensive night — 11 points, 4 for 10 shooting — but late in the game, the Thunder ran some offense through Holmgren to counter Dallas’ aggressive traps on OKC star Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander. 

The Thunder put Holmgren in a short roll — a pick-and-roll where he stops around the free-throw line and becomes a playmaker — and he excelled at “just making the right basketball play,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. 

Holmgren found a cutting Williams for a dunk. He moved the ball quickly and got into position for offensive rebounds, scoring four points on putbacks in the final two minutes, including a layup with 1:12 to play that tied the game at 120. 

And Holmgren turned up his defense a notch late. Three of his five blocked shots came in the final 3:32. 

Williams, too, came alive when it mattered most. He scored six of his team-high 23 points in the final 4:04, including a layup with 41 seconds to play that gave OKC the lead for good, 122-120. 

And though Gilgeous-Alexander was mostly quiet — he had 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting and only four shot attempts in the second half — his steal of a Dallas inbound and ensuing layup with 36 seconds to play gave the Thunder a four-point cushion. 

It was an inbound play — one player setting a down screen, another popping up — that Gilgeous-Alexander said teams run “like script” in the NBA. 

He’s picked them off before. He did it again for his fifth steal of Saturday night. 

“You can tell if they’re lackadaisical with it,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And if they were, I was gonna try to get a steal. If it presented itself I was gonna get it, and then the opportunity presented itself.”

On what no doubt will end up one of the wildest, weirdest wins of the NBA season, it was a familiar, reliable play from the league’s steals leader. 

Not much else went according to script. 

But in the presence of unprecedented oddity, the Thunder found a way to stay grounded.  

“We just had to be present. Stay in the moment,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Like, obviously they had turned the tide in the game. There was nothing we could do about it. All we could do was try and win the next four minutes.”

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Brett Dawson, the Thunder beat writer at Sellout Crowd, has covered basketball for more than 20 seasons at the pro and college levels. He previously worked the Thunder beat at The Oklahoman and The Athletic and also has covered the New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Clippers. He’s covered college programs at Louisville, Illinois and Kentucky, his alma mater. He taught sports journalism for a year at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. You can reach him at [email protected] or find him sipping a stout or an IPA at one of Oklahoma City’s better breweries.

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