This is what he meant.
The Oklahoma City Thunder stole homecourt advantage with a 106-100 win in Game 2 of this Western Conference Finals, stunning a sold out American Airlines Center crowd before heading back home for the next two games and a chance to take a commanding series lead by Monday night.
With the victory, the Thunder also seized every morsel of momentum the Mavs had. Oklahoma City snapped Dallas' seven-game winning streak in these playoffs, found a much-needed solution for slowing Nowitzki and showed all those Maverick sharp-shooters can be stopped.
“That was a heck of a win for us,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Because nearly everything the Thunder needed to do, it did. Because nearly every category that cost the Thunder in Game 1 completely flipped in Game 2. After getting thoroughly outplayed Tuesday, the Thunder's reserves regained control of the battle of the bench, outscoring their counterparts 50-29. The Thunder's defense, which yielded 121 points and 53 percent shooting in Game 1, pestered the Mavs into just barely cracking triple digits while lowering their field goal percentage to 43 percent in Game 2.
“They were just more aggressive,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “They were more aggressive defensively, and they attacked harder offensively. They took (the loss in Game 1) personally, and they responded well.”
But the most significant development was perhaps the Thunder's defense on Nowitzki. The 10-time All-Star toyed with the Thunder to the tune of 48 points in Game 1. He made 12 of 15 shots and didn't need to attempt a 3-pointer. He marched to the free throw line 24 times Tuesday, making all 24 to set an NBA record for makes without a miss.
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.