Kevin Durant is averaging 25.5 points on 34.1 percent shooting in this series with Dallas.
Russell Westbrook is averaging 28.5 points on 52.3 percent shooting.
Yet, the Mavericks have continued to throw their best defender at Durant while Westbrook eats them alive.
“He’s been the guy that’s been killing us,” Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said of Westbrook following the Thunder’s Game 2 win.
For the Mavs, the Thunder’s two-headed monster has become a pick-your-poison equation. Durant is struggling primarily because of Marion. He’s 4-of-16 against Dallas’ bulldog defender, with 12 of those 16 looks being contested attempts. Marion has suffocated Durant, and the Mavs’ team defense on the three-time scoring champ couldn’t be better.
But that’s allowed Westbrook to go bananas. And the question now is whether that’s a proposition the Mavs can continue to live with?
“Can we live with it?” Carlisle asked. “With him scoring 28.5? That’s a lot. It’d be one thing if we were winning the games. But at this point, when you’re down 0-2, we got to do better on him.”
The Mavs have thrown Delonte West at Westbrook, as well as both Jasons, Kidd and Terry. Dallas also has given Westbrook and the Thunder a steady dose of its puzzling zone. Westbrook has plowed through it all. The last option seems to be Marion.
“Possibly,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said when asked if Marion could slide over and cover Westbrook a bit. “But look, you’re talking about taking your best defender and a guy that was a real candidate for Defensive Player of the Year off of a guy who he’s doing a great job on to put him on another guy. We can look at it at different times of the games, but let’s not forget how great Durant is. He’s in the MVP conversation.”
Therein lies Dallas’ biggest dilemma.
If the Mavs take Marion off Durant and put him on Westbrook, they immediately run the risk of taking one step forward and two steps back. Dallas no doubt would prefer Westbrook to score 29 points on 21 shots than watch Durant go off for 40 on the same 21.
Then there’s the matter of whether Marion can even slow down Westbrook. There are plenty of reasons to believe he can’t, the largest being hardly no one can. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has had success in the past. But, generally, when Westbrook struggles it’s because of his own doing.
Tonight might be the first time in this series that we see if Marion can make a difference.
If he can’t, the Mavs are toast. Because the clock is ticking and the defending champions are quickly running out of time.
“They present a lot of problems,” Carlisle said of the Thunder, “and we’re working on solutions.”