Round 3, Game 4 (OKC v Dallas)

Truth is I’m still recovering from watching that game.  I only started with the 4th quarter, but I do believe I saw quite enough to have an accurate idea of what happened.  For those of you who don’t know, here’s a short summary of the game: the Thunder dominated the first quarter, held off the Mavs, built a 15-point 4th quarter lead with just 5 minutes remaining… only to see Dirk and the Mavericks come all the way back and win in OT.

Let’s start where every other commentator alive will start.  How sick is it that we’re almost expecting Dirk to show up like he did.  After suffering through a difficult third period and first half of the 4th, Nowitzki exploded for a cool dozen in the final 5 minutes including 3 jumpers with Collison hanging all over him and the game-tying free-throws, which hit nothing but the bottom of the net.  Just like in game 3, Collison tried all game to be physical with Nowitzki, bumping him out of the paint and forcing him away from his sweet spots.  It really didn’t matter.  Dirk’s array of fakes, fades and off-balanced one-leggers had even Collison in knots.  Both he and Ibaka are going to need counseling after this series for the abuse that they’ve suffered at the hands of Nowitzki.  As the Thunder lead shrunk in the final few minutes, you could see Collison, giving everything he had, looking more and more deflated with every play.  And, honestly, as much as everyone knows you have to blot the previous play out of your mind and just play the best defense you can, it’s easier said than done when the shooting is nailing everything in the world even over your best defense.

That said, a huge burden of the loss goes to OKC.  It takes a team to blow a 15 point lead in 5 minutes.  Durant and Westbrook look absolutely lost offensively in those final few minutes and left their young team essentially leaderless.  One timeout in particular, the cameras showed the Thunder bench where the body language of the Thunder players was one of complete dejection.  They were spent and wanted the torment to stop… and they were still up by a couple points then.

Remember (you probably don’t which is why I’m reminding you) before the series when I harped about experience and how experience itself doesn’t mean anything, but that confidence, poise, and drive, which all strongly correlate with experience, do matter?  Well, tonight was another perfect example of how the Thunder are “young.” Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden – the big four for the Thunder – combined for an appalling 23 turnovers.  They lost their poise.  Their deflated look before the game was even over – they lost their confidence.  Now the question is whether or not they have the drive to force a game 6.  They came out tonight with lots of drive, but if you can’t sustain it, it’s useless.

Two last things before I move on to the game summary.  Chandler picked up another technical foul and again, I would not be surprised in the least if it got rescinded.  This brings up an important point: if Chandler gets this T rescinded, that’s at least 3 points that the officials have given OKC this series (more if the Terry T was rescinded – couldn’t find info on that).  It’s so weird to me that the refs in this series are so tech-happy.

Finally, here’s something that I’ve been dreading to say.  I think Dallas will get walloped by either Chicago or Miami in the Finals (yeah, I’m jumping the gun, but who honestly believes the Thunder will make it back to OKC, much less win the series?).  Both Chicago and Miami are incredibly athletic and play with such pace and quickness.  Dallas is slower, older, craftier and more organized offensively and defensively than the uber-athletic, chaotic SuperFriends and Co.  The Mavs have been able to keep OKC’s athleticism under wraps by exploiting the Thunder’s weaknesses, but I just cannot see them flying around the court like the Eastern Conference Finals are being played right now.

The turning point of the game was those final 4 minutes of regulation when Dirk took over.  You could say it was the huge 3 to start the rally; you could say it was either one of his impossible fading, falling, ridiculous shots as Nowitzki closed the gap; or you could say it was his trip to the line that tied it all up, as Dirk posed after releasing the second free-throw, showing off the perfect form as the ball swished effortlessly through the hoop – challenging anyone who dared postulate that he was going to choke and miss.

Another easy player of the game.  If you don’t give the game ball to Nowitzki you’re probably not watching the right game, but that aside, there were a couple other contributers who need honorable mention with Nowitzki always hogging this spot.  Jason Kidd has been the most under-rated player the entire series.  Anyone looking just offhand at the stats will not be impressed by the initial numbers.  Now remember that the guy’s 38 and is defending a 22-year-old phenom whose greatest strengths are quickness and speed.  Then take a closer look at the numbers – 11.5 points, 8.5 assists, 5 boards and an unbelievable 4 steals per game.  Also, in his off time, when he’s not checking Westbrook, Carlisle sometimes just has him defend Durant.  No big deal.  The guy has been amazing doing everything the Mavs have needed.

The other guy who needs a shout-out even though his stats look putrid is Shawn Marion.  He was just 1/5 with 7 points in the game, but added 4 steals and incredible defense on Durant throughout the night.  Like Collison, he’s been given a nearly impossible job, but unlike Collison, he’s actually had some success at it, holding Durant to 29.5 points on just .435 shooting – considerably below his 46% regular season numbers.  Most importantly, though, is that he’s been able to almost single-handedly hold Durant to a stunningly low 16% from the 3-point line, effectively neutralizing one of OKC’s greatest weapons.

Going forward it’s hard to see anything but a Dallas win in game 5.  Dallas has not dominated as thoroughly as I expected, but most importantly, they’ve gotten the job done when it counted, barring that let-down at the end of game 2.  The difference between the two teams, then, is clear: whereas in game 3, the Thunder fell short in the epic come-from-behind bid, the Mavs managed to pull it off in game 4.  And that’s why I like Dallas to wrap this thing up on Wednesday.

Finally, as I said, I don’t think Dallas really has a shot against either Miami or Chicago (although it’s looking more and more like it’ll be Miami), but if the Mavs do find a way to win (which undoubtedly will include more unfathomable action from Dirk), Nowitzki is going to have to start getting a lot more love for top 25-30 player of all time.  There are only 2 things going against him right now: 1) is that he doesn’t have a ring and 2) is that he’s still perceived as soft.  He can shed both with a transcendent performance in the rest of these playoffs.

Yours Truly,

Basketblogger

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