DALLAS — Everything changed for the Oklahoma City Thunder when Nick Collison trudged toward the bench with 8:42 left in the third period.
He had just been whistled for his fourth personal foul, joining frontcourt teammate Serge Ibaka, who only 2 minutes, 36 seconds earlier also had just come within two fouls of disqualification.
At that moment, the Thunder was forced to finally unveil the matchup that was presumed to possibly be its best defense for Dirk Nowitzki — a smaller lineup that trotted out Kevin Durant at power forward to deal with Dallas' 10-time All-Star.
Five seconds in, disaster struck.
Durant was called for a foul while defending Nowitzki as he backed down from the right block. Then another in the same situation five seconds later. It gave Durant his second and third fouls and gave the Thunder confirmation it had no defense for Dirk on this night.
Nowitzki scored a game-high 48 points to carry Dallas to a 121-112 win over the Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night inside American Airlines Center. Nowitzki went 24-for-24 at the foul line, setting an NBA playoff record for made free throws without a miss while tallying the second most free throws ever made in a playoff game.
By getting to the foul line, Nowitzki's jaw-dropping scoring performance came on an improbable 12-of-15 shooting.
“We didn't have an answer for him tonight, obviously,” said Collison. “He played great.”
After Nowitzki's dominance, the Thunder can only ask “What now?”
Oklahoma City unleashed six defenders on Nowitzki. None of them had success.
Against Ibaka, Nowitzki sank one baseline jumper after another from the 17-foot area. When he wasn't splashing shots in Ibaka's face, he was blowing by him, getting inside the paint for rare assaults on the basket.
Postgame Thoughts: What did you think?
Box Score: Thunder loses to Mavs in Game 1