Dirk Nowitzki had his man right where he wanted him, at the high post on the left side of the court, the place where the Dallas Mavericks forward has carved up so many en route to the Hall of Fame.
His opponent on this possession was Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, the defender that didn't stand a chance in this one-on-one matchup seven months ago in the Western Conference Finals. And when Nowitzki started into his attack, it looked like the same script we saw play out over five games last spring.
But this time, Ibaka never bit. He didn't budge on Nowitzki's series of jab steps, and he stayed down on his string of pump fakes. By the time Nowitzki put the ball on the floor, he barreled his way to the rim only to find Kendrick Perkins lurking. Perkins met Nowitzki in the air, challenging his shot with a stuff that sparked a 24-second shot clock violation.
It was just one of several sequences that defined the Thunder's defensive intensity in its 87-83 win over the Mavericks on Tuesday night in the preseason finale for both teams.
In the end, the game was far from being as competitive as the final score would indicate. Oklahoma City led by as many as 23 against the defending world champions for the second time in three nights and carried a 21-point lead into the fourth quarter before calling off the dogs.
“I thought defensively we really played well,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We did a good job of stopping the basketball, we did a good job of fighting over screens, and I thought we did a very good job of contesting the shots. … We talked about scoring off of our defense, and our guys were committed to doing that.”
Brooks, who has demanded a more consistent defensive effort throughout games this season, couldn't complain if he tried after what he witnessed Tuesday night.