Round 3, Game 2 (Dallas v OKC)

It was a sad day for me on Thursday night.  Okay, I’ll stop being so dramatic, but in all truthfulness (which for some unbeknownst reason I value, evidently) I was dead wrong in how I thought game 2 would play out.  I knew OKC hadn’t been blown out, even though Dirk had put up 48 and that even in Dallas’ most dominant hour, they still didn’t look like they were crushing the Thunder at any point.  But I really believed that Dallas was a better basketball team and with far more drive to get back to the finals.

Now, I still think that the Mavs will regroup and win the series (I’m not backing down from that statement after 1 game), but I do think it’ll be a closer one than I expected.  When the Mavs were mowing down teams left and right, they looked unstoppable.  However, even after 1 loss, their weaknesses are glaring like a pink dress with black polka dots at a wedding.  Their starters (Marion, Kidd, Stevenson) just provide precious little offense, which makes it easier for OKC to defend Dirk.  But when the bench comes on (Terry, Barea, Peja), the team has 0 defense and no way on earth to defend Durant.  Your epic catch 22.  Oh, and just for the record, Marion and Stevenson can’t guard Durant, either, they just kind of hang around a bit better than Peja.

And, of course, no recap of this game would be complete without a talk about Russell Westbrook.  I’ve been harping about Westbrook ever since I started this blog, so I’ll cut him a little slack – he probably didn’t deserve to be taken out of the game of the entirety of the fourth quarter.  But evidently Westbrook’s gun-slinging ways had gotten him on the wrong side of Scottie Brooks.  Of all the bad shots and turnovers, however, the thing that annoyed me the most about Westbrook during this game in particular was his showboating on the three he hit late in the third quarter.  After making it, blew out the double pistols and re-holstered them – awfully cocky for a guy who’s putrid shooting has been very well documented.  And it’s important to note that it wasn’t as if Maynor was playing particularly well… unless you call giving up the ball to a sizzling Harden and Durant playing well.  And, honestly, that was probably it.

For me, however, the thing that won the Thunder the game was their defense on Dirk Nowitzki.  To make the record straight, they didn’t defend him well.  Dirk was 10 of 17 from the field, 9 of 10 from the line with 5 boards and 5 assists.  Those numbers would look really good, except of course that he’s spoiled us with 48 on Tuesday.  The thing the Thunder did in game 2, though, that saved their season was front Nowitzki.  Once Dirk got the ball, he scored at an insane clip (just a little less insane than game 1).  However, OKC’s fronting and denial of the ball to Nowitzki, especially in his scoreless 3rd quarter, really proved to be the difference-maker.  I was shocked that Dirk didn’t do a better job of getting position in the low block, but Rick Carlisle made the adjustment and had Dirk run off Chandler screens to the top of the key in the 4th, from where Dirk was super-effective (oi, a pokemon joke).

The turning point of the game really came on the last play of the 3rd where James Harden hit a wild three pointer, which, combined with the phantom foul (more on that later) on Jason Terry, made a 3 point Dallas lead, a 1 point Mav deficit.  That, my friends, is a game-changing play.

In a real blog, the player of the game would go to Durant by default, because of his absolutely abusive dunk on Brendan Haywood.  If you haven’t seen it, check the replay, because you’re never seeing a guy get posterized that badly again.  It’s like Griffin on Mozgov, crossed with Dwight’s superman dunk, crossed with Taj Gibson on D-Wade.  But back to the player of the game, I’m going to give it to James Harden for soul-crushing shot after soul-crushing shot in the second half.  In game 2, he was to the Thunder what Nowitzki was to Dallas in game 1 – that guy who makes shot after shot to crush your desire to keep competing.  Sounds harsh, but it’s true.  Oh, and to top off his 6/9 FG and 4/7 3PT for 23 points, Harden tossed in 7 rebs and 4 assists – leading the team in both categories!

Going forward, Dallas needs to be able to get Nowitzki the ball.  Dirk has shot the ball 32 times in 2 games.  For comparison’s sake, Westbrook shot the ball 33 times in one game against Memphis a week ago.  Dirk is an offensive wrecking ball and Dallas must ensure that he gets plenty of touches, especially with their no-O starters on the floor.  For that to happen, Dirk has to be able to get Collison and Ibaka on his back.  Anytime they start to front, bad things happen for Dallas.

For the Thunder, there is one gigantic question mark staining their win on Thursday night: what is going to happen to Westbrook?  Will he learn?  Will the benching hurt him too much emotionally and mentally?  Will Brooks continue to use Maynor down the stretch?  All these, of course, will be answered tonight.  But for speculation’s sake, I worry that Westbrook will not be at his best.  The Thunder still need him.  They had the luxury of being able to sit him with Maynor and Harden (as well as Perkins and Cook who went 5/5 combined) playing out of their minds offensively.  But Harden is streaky and can disappear completely from games.  And even before the benching, Westbrook put up 20 points and 4 assists.

I still see Dallas splitting the games in OKC, but this series is clearly not going to be over in 5 (drat).  Looking forward to tonight’s game so much.

Yours Truly,

Basketblogger

PS – what’s up with the 4-day break in the Bulls/Heat series???

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