Long after the brouhaha between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder was in the books Wednesday night, forward Charlie Villanueva respectfully referred to teammate J. J. Barea as a “Chihuahua.”
Well, that Chihuahua created a lot of havoc at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Not enough for the Mavs to collect a victory, but enough to get on the nerves of Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
With Barea dogging his every step, Westbrook erupted into two confrontations with the Mavs’ guard in a game the Thunder won, 108-89. Barea and Westbrook were each issued technical fouls in the first dust-up, which occurred at 5:17 before halftime and OKC ahead 45-32.
While the referees tried to restore order, apparently Villanueva got a bit too aggressive trying to protect Barea. After an official review of the incident, Villanueva was issued two technicals and ejected.
“Westbrook, he was a little aggressive on [Barea],” Villanueva said. “I’ll always have a teammates’ back.”
Not long after that scuffle, Barea fouled Westbrook again, causing Westbrook to fling his arm aggressively away. That drew a second technical and automatic ejection for Westbrook with the Thunder ahead 62-38 at 1:20 before halftime.
“I wasn’t surprised [Westbrook was ejected],” Barea said. “After the first scuffle happened they were really tight on everything else, so I knew if he did anything else they were going to call him out pretty quick.
“That time I just fouled him, and that’s it. I fouled him on purpose to stop the [fast] break and held onto him a little bit and then he swung his arms.”
OKC led 65-42 at the half and just stepped on the pedal against the short-handed Mavs.
Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons were all spectators because they played at least 38 minutes in Tuesday’s 110-107 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then, shortly before tipoff, the Mavs decided not to play center Zaza Pachulia after he developed soreness in his right Achilles.
Also, guard Devin Harris did not return to the game after suffering a foot injury. That left the Mavs with just eight players.
The Thunder led 75-46 with 7:37 left in the third quarter. Behind the play of rookie center Salah Mejri, the Mavs chopped the deficit as low as 14 points, 83-69, with 10:13 left in the game.
Things got uncomfortable enough for the Thunder that they brought Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka back into the game.
“We didn’t quite have enough firepower, but they banged away,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “You just got to keep playing, and they did. I’m proud of the way our guys competed.”
Carlisle was pleasantly proud of Mejri, who scored his first NBA points (17) and also pulled down nine rebounds in 25 minutes of work. In addition, Mejri had four dunks, including one where he jammed the ball in the face of Ibaka, one of the game’s best shot-blockers.
“It’s good to play such a game against a great team in Oklahoma City,” said Mejri, who was 7-of-8 from the field. “Coach had the confidence in me to keep me in the game, so it was good for me.
“I really felt good about it and I’m grateful for the coach to have confidence in me and to keep me playing and I hope I did what he wanted me to do.”
Barea led the Mavs with 18 points and six assists, Raymond Felton scored 14 points and JaVale McGee finished with 10 points and six rebounds.
The Mavs started Jeremy Evans, Barea, Felton, McGee and Villanueva. They shot 39 percent from the field and missed 25 of 31 3-point attempts. Oklahoma City turned 16 Dallas turnovers into 28 points.
The teams pushed the boundaries of physicality, and it centered around Westbrook and Barea.
“I’ve got into double fouls with him before and its part of the game,” Barea said of Westbrook. “And this time he just reacted a little bit extra.”
Villanueva, in retrospect, wishes he could have controlled his emotions better.
“I wish I could have controlled it more, because there was an opportunity there for me with some guys being out,” Villanueva said. “I feel like I let this team down, but it happens. It’s over with, on to the next one.”
The Mavericks head to Chicago for Friday’s game with the Bulls before going to San Antonio on Sunday.