OKC Thunder (8-5, 2-5 road) vs. Dallas Mavericks (9-2, 5-0 home)
Series: Mavs lead 1-0
View from the enemy: The Two Man Game
25-6. Just keep repeating those numbers. That’s the Thunder’s record in bounce back games this season, including the playoffs. In fact, any game the Thunder have lost in the postseason, they followed with a win. It’s been 47 days since Oklahoma City has dropped back-to-back games.
Now, those numbers don’t really mean anything other than the Thunder do well at coming back from a loss. But winning tonight in Dallas isn’t going to come just because some numbers say so. It’s going to come because the Thunder play better, on both ends.
What every Thunder fan has been saying the past two days is, “Dirk can’t score 48 with just three missed shots again, can he? Right? RIGHT!?!” I think there’s some refuge to take in that, but while he might not set NBA records and break efficiency marks, Dirk is entirely capable of once again dominating.
What was lost in that Game 1 is that Dallas revealed it had no plan for Kevin Durant. Depending on perspective, it just appeared that the Mavericks may have caught a break in that Russell Westbrook couldn’t finish anything at the rim. Westbrook went just 3-15, but had he shot a normal percentage, the Thunder may have come out the victors and Durant the hero. Funny how it works like that.
One thing to watch is how the game is officiated. Here’s a funny thing: Two of the officials in Game 1 (Joey Crawford and Zach Zarba) reffed the Thunder’s Game 1 against the Grizzlies in which they lost. In that game, OKC was whistled at most any moment it tried to get physical with Zach Randolph. Things changed as that series went on and the play got a lot rougher. Will that happen again? If it does, that plays into the Thunder’s favor since OKC’s defense is largely built around its physicality. More physical play favors the Thunder.
Dirk drew 16 fouls on seven different Thunder defenders in Game 1. That’s got to be fixed and it might simply come down to how the officials see things.
But more than just the refs and Dirk, don’t overlook the Mavs bench, specifically J.J. Barea. He torched the Thunder in Game 1 in the pick-and-roll. One reason for it was that OKC’s best shotblocker, Serge Ibaka, was pulled out from the basket because he had to guard Dirk. One adjustment the Thunder could make would be to either A) go small with Ibaka at center and Durant at power forward or B) play Nick Collison and Ibaka together and sit Kendrick Perkins.
Perkins isn’t a shotblocker and doesn’t really rotate well to stop someone at the rim. But if Collison were on Dirk (and Collison is one of the league’s best pick-and-roll defenders), Ibaka could hang back and be there to protect the rim. Ibaka is averaging almost five blocks a game in the playoffs and didn’t have any in Game 1.
The Mavs have won seven straight in the playoffs and are playing as well as they can possibly play. Overcoming a hot team is a challenge, but all it takes is a solid 48 minutes of basketball. The Thunder really played the Mavs toe to toe in Game 1, except for the second quarter. Put it all together and hope maybe the Mavs miss a shot or two, and the Thunder can steal a win here.
Some are saying it’s must-win, but I don’t see it that way. A loss means the Thunder are in a very awkward position for Game 3, but it’s not over. A win though means they’ve set themselves up to actually take this series. So a lot is on the line tonight.
But remember, 25-6.
Tip at 8:00 CT. Go Bounce Back Thunder.