Mavs Make It Look Easy In Game 1
Nuggets from my notebook from from Tuesday’s 121-112 loss in Game 1 to the Mavericks.
- Serge Ibaka has to man up. That’s what needs to happen if the Thunder wants to go to the NBA Finals. Getting past these Dallas Mavericks is far more complex than that. But, believe me, it starts there. Ibaka’s defense on Dirk Nowitzki from the opening tip sets the tone for the entire game. It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility, and one that Ibaka’s teammates and coaches will never publicly put on his 21-year-old shoulders. But if Ibaka lets Nowitzki get going early each night like he did in this first game the Thunder will never be able to contain him.
- Watching Ibaka’s defense on Dirk at the start of this game reminded me of the start of the third quarter of Game 6 of the Thunder’s series against Memphis. Ibaka wasn’t defending Zach Randolph tough enough to start the second half of that game and it allowed Randolph to find his rhythm and get so hot that no one else had any shot of cooling him off. That’s what happened tonight. Dirk got so comfortable early that nothing anyone else did mattered. That’s why Ibaka has got to man up.
- In a way, it’s unreasonable to expect Ibaka to do much better on Dirk. No one can guard the guy. And Ibaka’s principles weren’t terrible. The first jumper Dirk drilled, though, came with Ibaka’s hands down at his hips while Dirk sized him up. Serge has got to get a hand up early and prevent Dirk from getting a clean look. It’s hard enough to defend Dirk because of his high and, at times, quick release. But Ibaka will have no shot if his hands aren’t in the “stick” position. Ibaka got better at making that adjustment as the game went along. And it didn’t make one bit of difference. That’s just how good Dirk is.
- Another thing Ibaka needs to do is crowd Dirk better. Serge was giving Dirk a little too much space to raise and shoot. That’s got to change.
- Some folks got their undies in a bunch when I wrote on Twitter late in this game and after another ridiculous shot by Dirk that I felt like I was watching Larry Bird. Let me clarify. I felt like I was watching Larry Bird.
- Dirk scored a game-high 48 points on 15 shots. In case you don’t know how extremely impressive that is, check out Russell Westbrook’s stat line. On 15 shots, Russ scored just 20 points. The same amount of shots. Twenty eight less points.
- Nowitzki’s 24-of-24 shooting at the foul line was what made him so incredibly efficient. That marksmanship at the stripe set an NBA playoff record for free throws made without a miss.
- Kevin Durant might go down as the first player in Western Conference Finals history to score 40 and have it be a footnote. That’s how good Dirk was. But what Durant did to lead his team in this one should be commended. It doesn’t mean anything at this point since the Thunder lost. But Durant was a leader tonight. And he was every bit as good as Nowitzki. KD found his rhythm early and was carrying the Thunder offensively throughout most of this one.
- According to my count, the Thunder used six defenders on Nowitzki. Nick Collison appeared to be the best option. Going in, it seemed like KD would be. But he got destroyed in the post. Collison, however, is strong enough to be physical and not get punished down low and has adequate size to be somewhat of a factor on Dirk’s jumpers. We’ll see if Scott Brooks uses Collison more in Game 2. The best option still might be to throw multiple defenders at him to make him mix it up and pull out different moves from his bag of tricks.
- KD and Dirk both started 6-for-6 and lived up to their superstar reputations early. Everyone knew coming into this series that neither team had an answer for the opposing star. And each of them proved as much in the first 18 minutes or so. If they keep this up, this is going to be a fun, fun series.
- The Mavs showed an early double on KD in the post. Keep an eye on that.
- Two other things to make sure you appreciate about KD’s performance: his rebounding and his passing. He led the team in both rebounds (eight) and assists (five). At least two of his boards resulted in coast-to-coast layups, and his passing was phenomenal considering he willingly found the right man even while having the hot hand. And oh yeah, Durant led the team with a pair of blocks, too.
- Who’s going to help Durant? That’s one of the biggest questions after this one. Westbrook struggled with his shot all night, and Ibaka got the majority of his buckets on dump-offs late in the game. James Harden was quietly good tonight. He was aggressive driving to the basket, and he routinely made the right reads to set up teammates for easy scores. But somebody is going to have to bring a consistent effort.
- I didn’t think Westbrook played a bad game. Obviously, a lot of his shots didn’t fall. But he wasn’t taking bad shots. Most of them were good looks that just wouldn’t fall. He was too strong on his layups and too short on his jumpers. Had he made four more field goals, we’re sitting here talking about how the Mavs can’t stop him and, possibly, a Thunder win.
- Durant said of Westbrook: “I can bet (the) whole house that Russell Westbrook won’t go 3-for-15 again. You can quote me on that.”
- The Mavs started DeShawn Stevenson on Westbrook. In my opinion, there wasn’t much Stevenson did that contributed to Westbrook’s struggles.
- The Thunder’s bench has got to do a better job of keeping the game respectable. Dallas’ reserves can’t come in and take over the game like they did tonight. The Mavs’ bench outscored the Thunder’s 53-22. Jason Terry, with 24 points, outscored the Thunder bench by himself.
- We saw the Thunder’s offense run into another dry spell in the second quarter. It helped the Mavs outscore the Thunder 35-21 in the period. The Mavs turned a 45-39 deficit into a 55-48 halftime lead. That’s a 16-3 run to end the half. The Thunder was held to just one field goal in the final five minutes. On the other hand, the Mavs had five players score during their run. Those frequent dry spells are one of the main reasons I picked the Mavs to win this series. They might be something OKC simply can’t overcome against an offensive juggernaut like Dallas.
- Nothing better illustrated how frustrating the Thunder’s offense can be quite like one possession during that big Mavs run. When Dallas was on a 12-0 spurt in the second quarter the Thunder, for some reason, decided it would be a good idea to feed Kendrick Perkins in the post. It was terrible timing. That decision almost never ends well. And this time, Tyson Chandler stuffed his jump hook and watched it lead to a run-out.
- As problematic as the offense was at times during this one, the defense was a much, much bigger problem. The Thunder allowed Dallas to shoot 53 percent and get 121 points in regulation. Late in the first half, the Thunder had held Dallas to 3-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. The Mavs then made six of 11.
- Aside from getting a handle on Dirk, the biggest thing the Thunder needs to do is find an answer for J.J. Barea. His speed gave the Thunder all kinds of problems. In the pick and roll, Barea either blew by his defender to get to the rim, knife his way into the paint to set up a kick-out or take advantage of his defender going under the screen and stepping back to shoot a 3. The Thunder’s help defense could help limit his effectiveness. But with the Thunder trying to stay home on shooters, he was able to do whatever he wanted.
- Brooks said he went with Nate Robinson at the start of the fourth to get a spark. And I’m not sure if Brooks was looking for an offensive spark or a defensive one on Barea. But it didn’t really work. Robinson was 0-for-3 in nearly six minutes.
- Some of you might be hopping off the Nate Robinson train. I’m not. The guy has played more than 15 minutes only three times since Feb. 1. And he’s had knee surgery in that time. Given his circumstances, it’s not really fair to expect him to throw up 20 in six minutes of surprise playing time. Robinson told his teammates in the locker room after the game that he was nervous. He said he was trying to do well and that it was hard on him after not playing for so long. Feel free to wash your hands of Robinson. I don’t blame him for missing three shots.
- One thing that I’ve got to note is my dislike for how the style of play in the playoffs is allowed to change from one series to the next. It’s amazing how the game can be called one way in one series and completely differently in another. Shouldn’t post defense be called the same way consistently?
- Perk and Chandler were whistled for double technical fouls 70 seconds into the game for mixing it up and then jawing under the basket. Brooks said before the game that he talked to the team about too many techs. So much for that.
- Harden broke out a headband tonight. Originally, I thought it was a poor choice. He had been playing well and it looked like he wanted to change it up. But he used the headband to cover a band-aid over a cut on the right side of his forehead.
- The Thunder’s resiliency in this one was encouraging. After an early 10-3 hole, OKC bounced back to finish the opening quarter on a 24-10 run. And when the Thunder got down by 16 early in the fourth quarter, it responded with a 16-5 run to get within five. If you didn’t know by now, these guys are never going to roll over.
- Game 2 is Thursday, and the Thunder’s goal is to get the split to take over home court advantage.
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