Jason Terry spent 23 of the first 36 minutes in Game 1 torching the Thunder.
Dallas' sixth man scored 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting to help the Mavs take a 73-69 lead heading into the fourth period. Terry made all four of his 3-point attempts and had five assists.
And then Russell Westbrook slid over and guarded the spark plug of a shooting guard.
From that point on, Terry went scoreless. He missed his lone shot attempt in the fourth quarter and didn't register any assists in the final period.
While Kevin Durant's soft touch garnered headlines as the game-winner, Westbrook's defense on Terry was every bit as critical in giving the Thunder a 1-0 lead in this quarterfinal series.
“I told Russ, ‘You're an All-Star and being an All-Star ain't just playing one end of the court,” said Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. “‘You can take it up to another level at the other end, too,' and that's what he did.”
After watching Terry light up his team with a 6-of-6 start shooting, Westbrook, at some point, put it in his mind that Terry would get no more. And once Westbrook switched onto Terry, the Mavs struggled mightily to even get the ball in his hands — which is exactly how Westbrook found success.
“I thought we did a good job of just keeping him from catching the ball,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He's a great player. He makes a lot of big plays for them. But we did not allow him to be able to catch the ball. That's the best way to keep a guy from scoring, don't let him have the ball.”
Simple ball-denial spurred Westbrook to shutting down Terry. With Westbrook fronting and moving his feet, Terry rarely could catch the ball to be the go-to guy the Mavs have come to depend on in the fourth quarter. Dallas also assisted the Thunder's efforts by looking to take advantage of matchups elsewhere on the court rather than running sets for one of the best closers in basketball.
Terry's lone shot in the final frame came after grabbing a defensive rebound, pushing it in transition and getting a high ball screen before launching an errant 3-pointer from the top of the key.
In the last 101/2 minutes, Terry might as well have purchased some popcorn and enjoyed the show with the rest of the 18,203 spectators.
The Thunder had Daequan Cook covering Vince Carter, and Dallas spent the first three minutes of the fourth quarter trying to exploit that matchup. During that stretch, Terry became an afterthought, with Derek Fisher and James Harden able to essentially rest while covering Terry.
Then, in the final 81/2 minutes, Westbrook picked up Terry. But the Mavs had started going to Dirk Nowitzki.
“That's where I think our balance can be a little better,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. “I can do something to get Jet the ball a little more.”
But even when Dallas tried to run its offense through Terry, Westbrook did a fantastic job of denying him the ball. There was no better example than the job Westbrook did with 71/2 minutes remaining.
As Delonte West dribbled out beyond the top of the key, Terry attempted to meet him for a pass to initiate the play. But Westbrook fronted Terry the entire way, preventing him from shaking free and allowing West a clean entry pass. West then had to settle for a second option, a ball screen with Nowitzki that was used to drive and dish to Ian Mahinmi, who missed a layup.
Westbrook shut down the same play near the six-minute mark, this time as Jason Kidd tried to get it to Terry.
“Russell's a talented kid,” Brooks said. “He has the ability to guard multiple guards in this league, not just point guards he can guard (shooting guards). But it takes a lot of energy to do that for the 35 to 40 minutes that (Terry) will play.”
Inside the final five minutes, the Mavs rode Nowitzki, and rightfully so. Nowitzki scored nine straight points in the final 41/2 minutes to push the Mavs' lead to seven with 21/2 minutes remaining.
By then, though, Westbrook had taken Terry out of the game.
Asked on Sunday he didn't get as many touches in Game 1's fourth quarter, the typically affable Terry was dismissive.
“It don't even matter,” Terry said. “I bet I get touches this next fourth quarter.”
Asked what makes him sure, Terry was again short.
“I will. That's all I can tell you,” he said. “I can't tell you other than that. And you know when I say it, it's going to happen.”
Terry was then asked if he expects Westbrook to cover him again in the fourth quarter.
“Whoever they throw at me, it doesn't matter,” Terry said. “We'll have success, and that's what it's going to take for us to win.”