In Game 1 of last year's Western Conference Finals, Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki assembled the most efficient scoring line in the history of the NBA playoffs.
He finished with 48 points and took just 15 shots from the field.
No matter who the Thunder threw at Nowitzki defensively — Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, even guards Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden — all were mere mortals against the 7-foot, 245-pound German who tortures defenders both inside and out.
One way to measure overall scoring efficiency is to use true shooting percentage, which takes into account field goals, 3-pointers and free throws to give an overall measure of how efficiently a player scores.
The average true shooting percentage over the previous 15 postseasons was 53.3 percent. Nowitzki's true shooting percentage of 93.9 in Game 1 was the highest ever calculated, by far.
Nowitzki finished 12 for 15 from the field and set a playoff record by going 24 for 24 from the free-throw line. He also pitched in six rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.
For the series, Nowitzki shot 55.7 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from 3-point range, 96.7 percent from the free-throw line and also found time for 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in the Mavericks' 4-1 series victory.
As fate would have it, the Thunder will end up facing the world champion Mavs in back-to-back playoff series — as the No. 4 seed last year in the conference finals and as the No. 2 seed this year in the opening round.
Though Nowitzki's stats are down a tad from last season thanks to a slow start in a delayed NBA season, he remains a scary proposition to all who defend.
During the regular season last year, Nowitzki averaged 6.1 free-throw attempts per game. In last year's playoff series against the Thunder, he doubled that average at 12.2 free throws per game and converted 59 of 61 at the line.
“We put him on the free-throw line way too many times,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said Friday. “He's an amazing player, but we have to defend him without fouling him.”
Who will (attempt to) guard Nowitzki in this year's playoff series, which starts Saturday at 8:30 p.m. at Chesapeake Energy Arena?
“Everybody,” Brooks said, forcing a smile. “The whole team will be going to him.”
Ibaka, who led the league in blocked shots with 241 this season, will start out defending Nowitzki.
After that will come Collison, perhaps Perkins at times, but preferably not Durant.
“I like Kevin guarding the other guy,” Brooks said, meaning anybody but Nowitzki in hopes of avoiding foul trouble for Durant, the NBA's three-time scoring champ. “Dirk is strong. He doesn't look strong, but he's strong. He has a wide base he has great footwork and his balance is the best in the league.
“He shoots awkward shots that you think don't have a chance of going in. You're contesting it, your fingertips are right at the ball and it still goes in. Kevin might get an opportunity to guard him, but not much. We'll throw other guys on him.”
Durant did all he could to counter Nowitzki's heroics in Game 1, scoring 40 points (on 18 field-goals attempts), going 18 for 19 from the line and adding eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal, which still weren't enough as Dallas won the opener 121-112 at American Airlines Center.
Asked about Nowitzki, Durant said the Thunder did a better job defending him after that first game. Then again, could it have gotten much worse?
“He's a tough cover,” Durant said. “He's getting better every single year. The shots that he makes sometimes, you can't get discouraged.”
Easier said than done.
Even someone like Collison, who is as fundamentally sound and intellectually sharp as defenders come, shakes his head while discussing Nowitzki, who went on to become MVP of last year's NBA Finals triumph against the Miami Heat.
“The thing we struggle with is when he's in a pick-and-roll,” Collison said. “You still have to do your job and help, get a (defensive) shell, slow the ballhandler down and then run back to Dirk.
“When you're guarding Dirk, you're so concerned about him that sometimes you want to stick to him and not do the other things, so you have to avoid that. You have to trust that you can get back and guard him. I think that's the biggest adjustment. We have to fix what we struggle with.”