Dirk Nowitzki just had a playoff performance for the ages. One that will be referenced on split-screens and by announcers for a long time. Forty-eight points on 15 shots. That’s right, 3.2 points per attempt. I think John Hollinger’s PER just spontaneously combusted. Dirk set an NBA record for most makes at the free throw line without a miss. He went 12-15 from the field.
And oh yeah, the Mavs shot 53.4 percent, had an offensive rating of 130.1 and got 53 points from their bench.
The Thunder lost by like 30, didn’t they?
That’s definitely how it felt. But somehow, Oklahoma City stayed in the game throughout, kind of without actually totally being in it.
The most the Mavs ever led by was 16 and the Thunder actually got to within five once late in the fourth quarter. It’s easy to say, but really, a single stop and a basket and the Thunder could’ve had a shot to steal what was nearly a perfect performance by the Dirk and the Mavs. Is that reason to be encouraged? Maybe, maybe not. The Thunder lost the game, but I don’t think we saw anything that just screams, “The Thunder have no chance!”
Russell Westbrook did not play well at all, but not in the way you think. He attacked the rim well, took mostly good shots (11 of his 15 attempts were in the paint) but just didn’t make anything.
“I could bet my whole house that Russell Westbrook won’t go 3-15 again,” Durant said. “You can quote me on that.”
Tyson Chandler had a lot to do with that the way he patrolled the rim, but Westbrook is normally better at finishing there. He struggled in Game 1 against Memphis much the same way, but I never thought Westbrook was doing anything to shoot the Thunder out of it or anything. So if you want a reason to be encouraged, I’d say the Thunder’s second best scorer went 3-15 from the floor, Dirk had a historic night and OKC was a stop or two away from having a shot.
Not completely bad, right?
A lot of the reason the Thunder hung tough was because KD was outstanding. He scored 40 on 10-18 shooting and did his fair share of free throw shootin’ too (18-19). He started the game 6-6 and it was obvious that while the Thunder has no answer for Dirk, Dallas doesn’t know what to do with KD.
It was an odd feeling-out type of game. The Mavs weren’t rusty whatsoever and looked well prepared. The Thunder, coming off the hyper-physical Memphis series, weren’t ready for a game to turn a bit more touchy. The Thunder tried everyone on Dirk. Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Durant, Thabo, even Harden for a possession or two. I actually thought Scott Brooks might try everyone, down to Nate Robinson. Obviously nothing worked and that’s the challenge — how do you do better?
I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but the Thunder allowed Zach Randolph to have an incredible Game 1 which inspired KD to say Randolph was the best power forward in the game. The Thunder adjusted though and came back with a much better gameplan on Z-Bo. Now, Dirk is a whole other animal and if he’s going to get 24 free throw attempts, you absolutely can’t do anything to stop him.
- Let’s not act like Dallas was the only one that got the whistle here. The Thunder took 43 free throws to Dallas’s 36. KD took 19. Westbrook took 18. I do think the Thunder were the aggressors and “earned” more free throws, but don’t at all get carried away complaining about the officiating. OKC got a bunch of calls too.
- Brooks did try out Nate Robinson tonight, but not on Dirk. Robinson started the fourth quarter with OKC down 11 and of all the times it seemed like a good moment to try Nate for a spark, this didn’t seem like it. The Thunder’s offense was never really the problem. It was all about bad defense and too many fouls. OKC came out even with Robinson on the floor, but he was torched for nine quick points by J.J. Barea.
- Brooks on Robinson: “I felt that we needed a spark and that’s one of the things he does, brings energy.”
- In the third quarter, Dirk went 13-13 from the free throw line.
- Via Kevin Pelton: “Fewest shots in a 45-point game in that span was 23 by Jordan vs. Orlando in ’96. Dirk took 15.”
- OKC’s goal is to take one of these two. Game 1 wasn’t the one. Remember, the Thunder dropped Game 1 to Memphis at home and came back to win the series. Nothing is settled here and there’s work to be done.
- Because some people were actually dumb enough to rip on Westbrook tonight, let me defend him (are you surprised?): What did you want him to do tonight? He shot the ball horribly, but did everything you’d ask him to do. He went hard at the rim, got fouled and shot a lot of free throws. He didn’t turn the ball over much (four) and while he didn’t finish with a high assist total (three), that was hardly his fault. (Assists are a two-man thing.) No, he didn’t play a good game, but that’s it. It wasn’t anything about his selfishness or ego or anything like that. At this point, people are getting to the point where they want to just feed the narrative when Westbrook plays poorly or OKC loses. As Rob Mahoney called it, it’s “confirmation bias.” The only thing Westbrook really did wrong tonight was miss shots he probably should’ve made.
- OKC went small with Durant on Dirk with eight minutes left in the third. Not by choice though. Ibaka and Collison both had four fouls. KD picked up two quick ones though and the Thunder had to try something new.
- Scott Brooks on Dirk’s free throws: “He earned them. We fouled him.” I know Scotty probably doesn’t entirely think that, but I love that he said it.
- James Harden came out wearing a headband, which I was not a fan of. But by the look of it, he had a bandage on his forehead so I guess he was covering it up.
- If the Memphis series were officiated that tight, I think OKC might’ve been swept.
- This game was really won by Dallas in the second quarter. The Thunder won the first 27-20, but Dallas stormed back 35-21 in the second. The third was 35-31 Dallas and the fourth 33-31 in favor of OKC.
- Scott Brooks midgame: “On Dirk, you know he’s going to make shots, right? … Just do your best on him next time.” Defending Dirk, not fun.
- Perk picked up another technical. What is that, like four or five? Suspension kicks in at seven.
- The Mavs tried out a zone a few times but I wouldn’t say it was entirely effective. What it did more than anything was goad Westbrook into taking a couple quick jumpers. If he makes them, everything is good. He was open. But he missed.
- The Mavs have a serious knack for making shots when they get them. That’s how they beat the Lakers and that’s really what did in OKC.
- The Thunder actually won the boards 35-33. That’s a good sign.
- Serge Ibaka finished with 17 and had like five dunks. The Mavs let him loose entirely in the late third and fourth. However, an unexpected stat: Zero blocks for Serge, four for Dirk.
Again, keep it in your head: The goal is to take one. This one wasn’t it. There are good and bad things to take from Game 1, and a good amount of bad. But I can confidently say I didn’t think the Thunder played that great of a game while Dallas played a wonderful one and OKC had a realistic shot to win late. It’s possible for Westbrook to play bad again. I wouldn’t have bet my house on that if I were KD. But defensively, I think OKC will be better. Dirk’s not going to score 48 on 15 shots again. At least I don’t think he will.
The Thunder just have to regroup a bit and readjust. Come up with a bit better plan for Dirk and try and limit some of the open jumpshooting the Mavs had. I actually am mildly encouraged despite the loss. Being down 0-1 isn’t good and isn’t ideal and it means there’s more pressure for Game 2. But if there’s anything this Thunder team does very well, it’s bounce back.
Next up: Game 2 in Dallas Thursday.