With none of their starting five playing Wednesday night, no one gave the Dallas Mavericks a fighting chance at defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Then again, no one knew that the Mavs would go down swinging in a 108-89 loss to the Thunder at rowdy Chesapeake Energy Arena.
In a wild game that featured six technical fouls, 46 personal fouls and two ejections, the Mavs opened a three-game road trip with a memorable loss to their Red River rivals.
This one will be remembered for Mavs forward Charlie Villanueva being ejected in the second quarter after picking up two technical fouls while standing up for teammate J.J. Barea.
Earlier in the sequence, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Barea were both whistled for technicals after muscling up to each other.
“It was just a regular play, a post-up, it got physical, nothing extra, though,” Barea said. “It was a regular foul, and then he threw his arms and went a little crazy after that.
“I wasn’t backing down, and he tried to push and I tried to grab, and he grabbed me and he flailed his arms.”
A few minutes later, Barea fouled Westbrook, who flung his arms and drew a second technical foul and automatic ejection. After that play, Barea was booed the rest of the game each time he touched the ball.
“I’ve been booed in college a lot,” Barea said. “I know deep down they like me here in Oklahoma, but it’s OK if they want to boo me.”
Villanueva said he did what came natural to him.
“I will always stand up for a teammate,” he said. “That’s just my makeup. I should have controlled it a little bit more, of course, but it got the best of me. But it’s over with now.”
The Mavs were never in this game. With starters Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews all sitting because they each played at least 38 minutes in Tuesday’s overtime loss to Cleveland, the Mavs were already behind the eight ball coming into the game.
Then, shortly before tipoff, center Zaza Pachulia was a late scratch with a right Achilles injury.
The Mavs ended up starting Jeremy Evans, JaVale McGee, Raymond Felton, Barea and Villanueva, and the Thunder quickly built a double-digit lead in the first period.
With Kevin Durant racking up 29 points and 10 rebounds and Serge Ibaka adding 20 points and 11 rebounds, the Mavs eventually trailed by as many as 29 points.
But with rookie center Salah Mejri picking up 17 points and nine rebound in 25 minutes, the Mavs (22-18) found a bright spot in what was an otherwise ugly game.
“He’s been working hard with our developmental people, and he’s been practicing hard,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Mejri. “The hard work’s paid off.
“He had a really good night on offense. He rebounded the ball and he showed that he’s in shape and that he’s ready, so a very positive sign.”
This was just the sixth game of the season for Mejri.
“I’ve been working hard since I got here,” Mejri said. “I’m happy with my play today. I could have been more happy if we got the win tonight, but this is good for my confidence.”
The Mavs also would rather have recorded the victory, but they finished 6 of 31 from 3-point range and had 16 turnovers turned into 28 Thunder points.
Plus, the extra stuff didn’t work to their favor.
“It was more of the ensuing stuff that was more penal,” Carlisle said. “Charlie all of a sudden got two technicals, and I didn’t see it.
“Hey, it’s a physical game and it’s emotional and both teams compete and things like his happen. The officials got it cleaned up to some degree, and we finally got the game over with.”
Mavericks at Bulls
7 p.m. Friday, FSSW