(The Sports Xchange) - Even though Oklahoma City have a team full of veteran and experienced players, this season they have had problems closing out games. While playing without forward Kevin Durant is a factor, it is only one reason for fourth-quarter meltdowns.
When the Thunder took on Dallas on Sunday, they once again were given the opportunity to fall apart and allow a team to steal a victory from them.
But this time, they finally put the pieces of the puzzle together to pull out an 117-114 victory over the Mavericks at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"It's just buckling down," Thunder guard Dion Waiters said.
"We just hate to lose knowing you had a chance to win. So we have to come out here from the tip and just play hard, trust one another, especially on the defensive end."
Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook scored 31 points to lead six players in double figures. He shot 12 of 22 from the field to go along with 11 assists, seven turnovers and five steals. Forward Serge Ibaka collected 16 points, nine rebounds and a key block in the win for the Thunder (8-6).
"I think we're moving closer and closer to, at least from an offensive standpoint, really moving the basketball," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
"I think we really found some scoring tonight. We had a lot of guys in double figures. The ball got from one side of the floor to the other. I thought we got really good contributions off the bench."
Deron Williams led the Mavericks (9-5) with 20 points and six assists. Wesley Matthews added 18 points while forward Dirk Nowitzki scored 11 points on five of seven shooting.
"I thought we were poor on defense the entire game," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "You give up 117 points. We've been giving up a 100 on average. It's just not getting it done. I think we loss some of our defensive edge."
'HAVE TO IMPROVE'
Andre Roberson gave the Thunder a 102-101 lead with 5:30 left in the game. But Zaza Pachulia completed a three-point play to put Dallas up by two.
After Westbrook knocked in a shot, Nowitzki answered with back-to-back jumpers to give the Mavs a four-point advantage with 3:39 on the clock.
On a pass from Westbrook, guard Dion Waiters buried a corner three-pointer to cut the lead down to 108-107.
Pachulia missed a pair of free throws and Ibaka made the Mavs pay when he hit a mini-hook shot. Waiters then came up with a steal and layup to put the Thunder up by three with 2:19 remaining.
Westbrook picked up a steal on the next possession and finished with a two-handed dunk. But guard Wesley Matthews hit a three-pointer to stop the run. A putback by guard J.J. Barea tied the contest at 113-113.
A Westbrook jumper put the Thunder back on top by two. After getting a defensive stop, he had a chance to extend to four, but missed the jumper. Pachulia got the rebound and was fouled. He missed 1-of-2 and the Mavericks were down one.
But Westbrook calmly walked down his defender and buried a midrange jumper with 24 seconds left to give Oklahoma City a three-point lead.
Dallas tried to answer with Williams. But his shot was off the mark and center Steven Adams grabbed the board and was fouled.
However, he missed both free throws, giving the Mavs a chance to tie the contest with 17.2 seconds left. But, Williams drove too close to Ibaka and he swatted his shot out of bounds. Dallas got the ball to Matthews for another chance to tie the game, but he turned the ball over after throwing it in and Westbrook dribbled the clock out.
"I haven't looked at the film yet, but it looked like Wes Matthews got cross body blocked," Carlisle said.
"And the play continued. But look, it didn't come down to that. It came down to our defense wasn't good enough, missed a lot of free throws and we turned it over too much. We have to improve those three areas."
(Compiled by Peter Rutherford)