DALLAS –As least one well-known person in Dallas doesn’t think Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook is a superstar. But he sure looked like one Monday night at American Airlines Center.
Westbrook completely took over a game the Dallas Mavericks looked like they were well on their way to winning. The nine-year veteran registered his 37th triple-double of the season as the Thunder put on a furious rally and shocked the Mavs, 92-91.
OKC scored the game’s final 14 points – 12 of them by Westbrook, who finished with 37 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Westbrook also drilled the game-winning 16-foot jumper with just 7.2 seconds remaining, assuring Dallas of having its first losing season since Mark Cuban bought the Mavs from Ross Perot Jr. on Jan. 4, 2000.
"It was a very frustrating finish for the Mavs, who embark on a season-high five-game road trip beginning Wednesday in New Orleans.
"I thought the whole game turned in the second half with the beginning of the third quarter,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "They cut (the Mavs’ 50-35 halftime lead) to (56-55) and we responded well and got the lead back up.
"But the rebounding discrepancy in the second half was the difference in the game. We were up one rebound at halftime and we ended up down nine."
During their torrid rally, the Thunder caught a major break when replays showed Westbrook clearly double-dribbled with under two minutes left and the Mavs up by eight points. On that same possession, Steven Adams tipped in a shot to get OKC within 91-85 of the Mavs with 1:49 remaining in the game.
"I didn’t look at (the replay), so I don’t have a real opinion on it," Carlisle said. "And if I did, it would probably cost me a lot of money, so I will pass."
In addition to leaving the Mavs shell-shocked, the loss left them with a 31-42 record and four games behind Denver for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. It is a playoff race that is quickly slipping away from the Mavs, who only have nine games left.
One minute the Mavs were up 91-78 following a 3-pointer by Yogi Ferrell with 3:31 left, and the next minute they were scrambling for their lives.
"It just happened so fast,’’ said Nerlens Noel, who started the game and finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes. "We have to do a better job of rebounding instead of being out of position, starting with myself.
"We have to secure those late rebounds, and no matter where they go we have to come up with them. We have to secure the possession and get into a set and stay at ease."
After Westbrook’s final basket, the Mavs were out of timeouts. So they rushed down the floor and Harrison Barnes missed a 3-pointer with one seconds left and the Thunder skipped off the court with an improbable victory.
"It was a very disappointing loss,’’ Carlisle said. "The end of the game was physical – nothing easy.
"They made plays and we didn’t."
Before the game, Cuban was asked if he thinks Westbrook is a superstar. But the Mavs’ owner – his definition of a superstar is a player leading his team to 50 wins in a season and winning at least one playoff series in the same season -- didn’t relent.
"Look, he’s a great player, he’s a perennial All-Star, he deserves a lot of credit he’s getting, he’s got a great clothing line – I wear it,’’ Cuban said. "I’m not trying to take anything away from Russ.
"The criteria is the criteria."
The Mavs shot 41.3 percent from the field and held OKC to 43.5 percent shooting. Dallas scored 17 points off 18 turnovers, but the Thunder managed 21 points off 15 Mavs’ turnovers.
Carlisle was asked, before the game, why the Mavs have had a decent 21-18 record a home this season.
"Bad teams generally play better at home – I think,’’ Carlisle said. "If you look at the teams that are really struggling this year that are in our range, they’re winning a helluva lot more home games than road games.’’
The fact that Carlisle described the Mavs as a "bad team’’ speaks volumes. All that badness was on full display down the stretch on Monday.
‘We played a great first half – almost held them to 30 points,’’ Carlisle said. "We didn’t take care of business on the defensive side of the ball in the fourth quarter and that cost us."