If you haven’t heard, Dirk Nowitzki is good at the basketballing activities. So good that he can score 48 points with only 15 shots. You’ve heard that stat about two hundred times already I’m sure, but still, it’s worth repeating. Because it’s pretty much insane.
Clearly, the Thunder need to do something different. I said before the series that really the best defense against Dirk is just hoping he misses, but 48 on 15 shots is ridiculous. Serge Ibaka actually did a relatively good job on him in terms of going by the book. He played him fairly physical, contested everything and pushed him away from the lane. Didn’t matter though.
I liked what Scott Brooks said after the game in how he told Ibaka not to get demoralized if Dirk started Dirking him: “When I did say that, I didn’t think he was going to make (that) many shots.”
The Thunder are likely spending all day figuring out a new and improved plan for guarding the big German. They only had one day to prepare after Game 7 against Memphis, so with the extra time, they’re going to come up with something. I came up with 10 ideas. I’m not saying they’re brilliant or revolutionary or anything, but I’m just joining in on the brainstorming.
Don’t foul him. Just don’t do it. Your chances of stopping him are much better if you just give him an open jumper than if you foul him and let him shoot two free throws. On the season, Dirk shot 51.7 percent from the floor. He shot 89.2 percent from the line. Last night’s not the best example but still, he shot 80 percent from the floor compared to 100 percent from the line. Play those percentages.
It was obvious the Thunder weren’t allowed to play rough with Dirk at all and that’s going to have to be an adjustment. Against Memphis, OKC’s defenders basically just stopped short of wrapping Z-Bo up powerbombing him. Against Dirk, a little heavy bumping was called a foul. Maybe that changes in Game 2, but if not, the Thunder are just going to have to play Dirk a bit more straight up.
Keep him off his spots. You’ll notice that Dirk has places on the floor he likes to be. It’s easier said than done, but moving Dirk off the baselines and to the top of the key where it’s easier to help is ideal. I think where the Thunder went wrong is that they tried to play Dirk physical once he had the ball. I think they need to get nastier with him before he catches it. Make sure when he catches it, he’s closer to the 3-point line than the paint. Dirk has places on the floor that he wants to be and when he’s there, it’s all over for you.
Take a tire iron to his knee like he’s Nancy Kerrigan. This would be my plan. And if Dirk keeps humiliating Serge Ibaka, it might become his plan too.
Get closer. Dirk’s a lot like Zach Randolph is a way. They both want to get isolation and once they do, they possess a jumper that comes so high off their head that you can’t contest it well, much less block it. Now of course Dirk is a far, far better shooter than Z-Bo, but you get the idea. The Thunder adjusted right away to start Game 2 to really get up inside Randolph when he had the ball. Dirk’s got a quicker release and doesn’t need as much space to shoot over someone as Randolph, but giving Dirk any kind of space just invites him to shoot.
Don’t double. I’m not a fan of this. At least not in a philosophical way. I don’t think the adjustment to make it to just start doubling Dirk on every catch. He passes too well out of it and the Mavs have too many shooters to hurt you. I don’t mind a double when it makes sense (like Russell Westbrook or Thabo digging down off their man) but in terms of committing to it, I don’t think it’ll help that much. Maybe now Dirk’s not the one killing you, but the other four players on the floor will.
For instance, enjoy this quote from Jason Terry on it: “I’ll be licking my chops.”
Go at him more offensively. Ibaka got loose for a number of dunks, but the Thunder never really attacked Dirk. He finished the game without any sort of foul trouble, which is kind of inexcusable. Dirk’s not a player prone to fouling, but still, at least force him to play defense. The more he has to guard, the more he has to work. And the more chance there is he’ll pick up a bad second foul early and have to sit a little longer than usual.
Get totally crazy. Here’s an idea and yes, I realize it’s a pretty dumb and bad one. But what about trying Byron Mullens on Dirk a bit? Mullens is 7-1, athletic and strong enough to push on Dirk. You lose a lot offensively and in rebounding, but Mullens has the physical makeup to be a Dirk stopper. Great length, great size, athletic and quick enough to guard him off the dribble. It’s a bad idea, but it’s not a horrible idea. Plus, it’s the element of surprise. No way Dirk would be expecting that one, right?
And yes, at this point, I’m getting desperate.
Front him. I don’t entirely love the idea of fronting Dirk because Dallas’s offense is such that the ball doesn’t have to go through Dirk. He’s completely fine playing decoy on some possessions. And when you front, that means two things happen: 1) A second defender has to be on the ball and ready to help defend and 2) If that person is someone like Perk, there’s a good chance we’ll see 10 defensive three second calls against OKC.
But the absolute best way to keep Dirk from scoring is to keep him from getting the ball. It’s kind of hard to score when you don’t have the ball. Brilliant, I know. I think I learned that at a basketball camp in third grade.
Defend the pick-and-roll smarter. Most of the time the way Dallas gets the ball to Dirk is in the screen-and-roll. Especially with J.J. Barea. The Thunder was so afraid of Dirk rolling off and getting to a spot that they sort of forgot about Barea and his speed and let him go crazy. The Lakers battled the same issue.
OKC has to hedge a lot harder on those, which is something Nick Collison might be the best in the league at doing. Ibaka played the pick-and-roll pretty lightly and Barea’s man (Nate Robinson in some situations) didn’t do well at all sensing the screen and moving through.
The Mavs screen-and-roll game completely neutralizes Ibaka as a shot-blocker. He can’t block Dirk and when he’s pulled so far out to defend Dirk, Barea has a free path right to the rim with nobody waiting. You can’t leave Dirk, but you can’t give Barea an open lane. Maybe a solution would be to play Collison and Ibaka together more. Worth a shot.
Hope he misses. I still maintain this is the best defensive strategy.
Obviously the Thunder have to make some changes in the way they approach Dirk. They had to do the same thing with Randolph after Game 1 against Memphis. Brooks and his staff did a nice job and figured out a better way to handle Z-Bo. Dirk’s a better player and a tougher cover, but it’s not impossible. OKC can survive Dirk being great, but probably not him scoring 48 on 15 shots. I don’t think Dirk will get near as many free throws in Game 2, but the Thunder have to do better. You can’t just gift points to Dirk and the Mavs. You’re not going to stop Dirk so much, but you can limit him and put it on the other four Mavs on the floor to beat you.
Or just hope he misses.