On Thursday, though, the Thunder held Nowitzki to 29 points on 10 of 17 shooting. He had his free throw attempts reduced to 10. He converted nine, snapping his streak of 39 straight makes.
“They tried to keep the ball out of my hands a little bit more,” Nowitzki said.
The strategy that worked best, however, was more physicality. The Thunder got closer to Nowitzki on his catches, crowding him and making him put the ball on the floor. In Game 1, the Thunder allowed Nowitzki to work out of the triple threat position the entire night. And all he did was size up his defenders before surgically ripping them apart.
But Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison took turns setting the tone on Nowitzki. They made his catches tougher. They avoided the temptation of putting their hands on him. They made him drive and become a playmaker.
Through three quarters, Nowitzki was stuck on 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting.
“We just wanted to challenge him on his shots and hope that he missed them,” said Collison. “We did a better job helping from the weak side, and it gave us more confidence to get into him knowing that if we did get beat off the dribble we didn't have to foul him because their was help coming. I think that helped us a little bit.
“The guy's still tough. He scored a ton down the stretch when they needed it. But we did enough early, I think, that we were able to get a win.” And make Nowitzki's jaw-dropping performance in Game 1 meaningless.