Round 3, Game 1 (Dallas v OKC)

So before I start, I’d just like to preface this by saying that I’m sorry I didn’t get around to getting this blog out last night.  I’d like to claim that it was because of real-world responsibilities and whatnot, but unfortunately, I do have to admit that it was more due to my swooning from Dirk’s performance than anything else.

Speaking of which, I’m sure anyone who pays any attention to professional basketball knows what Dirk Nowitzki did to the Thunder last night.  And if you want to go over the stats (48-6-4-4) or the records, I’d suggest reading ESPN.  The thing that I want to talk about it how Nowitzki’s phenomenal performance fit in with the game as a whole.  For starters, I would like to apologize to all Thunder fans for even suggesting that OKC could guard Dirk.  Let me quote me to you,

“The irony is that even though everyone knows that Dirk is almost always unstoppable, the pressure is entirely on him to be absolutely perfect.  Every modicum of Dallas’ offense runs through Nowitzki and if Ibaka or anyone else can even slow him down just a little, it will make all the difference.  Ibaka has the length, size and athleticism to play Nowitzki, but the latter is an offensive Houdini with sneaky athleticism and a brilliant offensive repertoire.  Dirk will get his, but will it be enough to carry his team back to the Finals.”

Oops.  Dirk didn’t just “get his,” he got his and Westbrook’s – all while playing perfectly within Dallas’ offensive strategy.  And that was what was most impressive to me.  Dirk never forced the issue, took good shots, passed when the help came, differed when Barea took over, and then iced the game when it came down to it.  I tweeted during the game that Dallas was proving that, as the annoying tv commercial stated, “teamwork.works.”  So even though Dirk did much of the heavy lifting in the game, it’s wasn’t the “Dirk Nowitzki show,” it was the Dallas Mavericks show.  In other words, had OKC rotated and forced the ball out of Nowitzki’s hands, the Mavs still would have been fine, because Dirk was making the right plays all night – and in last night’s case, the right plays meant drilling jumper after soul-crushing jumper in the face of any and all OKC defenders.

A couple more points before I get to the breakdown of the game: Russell Westbrook should really read this blog.  Yes, he shot less than 20 times, but his 4 TOs, 3 puny assists, and horrific shooting percentage (20%) were brutal.  Even the one strength in his game yesterday (FTs) was brought about dubious foul calls as he sent himself hurtling through the air vaguely in the direction of the rim play after play.  For 12 post-season games, he’s now shooting… drumroll, please… 39.5%; compare that to Durant (46.5%), Terry (52.1%), Dirk (52%) and the Mavs TEAM from 3-point range (41.6%).  Worst of all, though was that Westbrook spent the entire night taking away shots from Durant who was almost Nowitzki’s equal.  Dallas is keying in on Westbrook and making him look stupid; and Westbrook is content to continue to attack with the same reckless abandon, playing right into Dallas’ defensive strategy.

Finally, let’s talk about confidence, poise, and drive.  The Thunder came out on Tuesday night with a ton of confidence and poise, which was great to see from a young team.  After Dirk drained something like 5 fadeaways over Ibaka in the first few minutes, they easily could have folded.  Instead, they took a 7 point lead heading into the second quarter.  I was impressed on the “experience” front, then, with regards to the Thunder.  However, I still see something in Dallas’ play, with their veterans, knowing that this could be their last chance to compete for a title, playing with an emotion that I’m not sure the Thunder can possibly match.  The Thunder are hungry – Dallas is famished.

With the Thunder leading for most of the first half, the turning point was when Dallas made its move midway through the second quarter.  After Marion got decked by an incidental Perkins elbow, Dallas proceeded to dominate the next few minutes, defending with utter tenacity and scoring in both transition and in the half-court set.  The most memorable play of the stretch – a secondary break layup by Dirk (who else) for an and-1, which gave the Mavs the lead for good.

I think there may never have been an easier player of the game.  For the fantastic job Durant did and the tremendous bench play of both Barea and Terry (both 20+ on 50%+ shooting), the obvious (though completely phantom) trophy goes to Dirk.  Watching the highlights of the game completely loses the deflating effect of ever shot he took and drained over an outstretched arm all night.  He took textbook, perfect defense and made it seem like a shooting drill in practice (and Iverson said he didn’t like practice).  At least 6 Thunder players tried their turn at defending him and all were called for at least one foul and/or had a gorgeous arching fade made over their outstretched arm.  Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the 4 blocks(!), 4 assists (and many more hockey assists) and 6 boards (a significant total considering there weren’t that many misses in the game.  He got all three primary bigs of OKC in foul trouble, played good defense, and didn’t miss a free throw.  Yeah, it was that awesome.

Going forward, I think OKC has a lot to be happy about.  They lost by only 9, even with Dirk’s otherworldly performance; it didn’t seem like anyone could stop Durant (except Westbrook… am I overdoing it?); and they took everyone except Terry, Barea and Dirk out of the game effectively.  Those are some nice things to hang a hat on (I’d never hang my hats on nice things, by the way).  For Dallas, it’s also encouraging that you got only 3 players to play “well” and still beat the Thunder.  Peja, Kidd, Marion and Chandler all didn’t do much, but have the potential to burst out for 10-15 points on any given night.  Essentially, though both teams played well, they both have room for improvement.  Unfortunately for OKC, though, I don’t seem much of a way they contain Dirk.  He’s the trump card in this series and Dallas isn’t afraid to use him.

So on to the Bulls tonight (notice how I ignored the super-friends).  Hopefully Chicago continues to pound Miami in every hustle category and we get to watch another Lebron meltdown.

Yours Truly,

Basketblogger

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