The Dallas Mavericks got a cold, hard wake up call in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. They lost 106-100 because of their inability to defend the Thunder. The Thunder have averaged 109 points per game and shot 56% from the field in Game 2. They were seemingly in control of Game 2 in the second quarter until they allowed the Thunder to score on ten straight possessions. Unless the Mavs tighten up their defense they are going to have a very difficult time beating Oklahoma City.
The Thunder’s ability to keep the ball out of Dirk Nowitzki’s hands with their fronting of the post and doubling when he put the ball on the deck helped them win Game 2. More importantly by limiting his touches the Thunder avoided Nowitzki getting into an unstoppable rhythm. Their ability to keep him off the foul line helped them keep him and the Mavs in check.
The Thunder’s bench won Game 2. They combined for 50 points and played so well that Scott Brooks kept them in the entire 4th quarter. The bench scored 24 of the 29 Thunder 4th quarter points. James Harden, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, and Daequan Cook made play after play throughout the game and took a lot of pressure off the shoulders of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Game 3 Adjustments:
1.Dallas Defense: The Dallas Mavericks have improved defensively as a team this past season. The question is have they improved enough to win a championship. Their defense is allowing 109 points per game in their two games versus the Thunder. The Mavericks could easily lose this series unless they improve their defense. The Thunder is a very bad team to get into a shoot out with. They are one of the teams in the NBA that can match Dirk Nowitzki’s and the Mavs scoring.
The Mavericks pick and roll coverage is extremely poor and they must improve it quickly. The Thunder will continue to attack with Westbrook, Maynor and Harden in pick and rolls versus the Mavericks. If they must improve their ability to control the ball and limit penetration by the ball handlers. Look for the Thunder to continue to run a ton of pick and rolls, especially with Westbrook/Harden and Durant. The Mavs must be able to stop this action in Game 3.
The Mavericks have used a zone in this series, but it is not something that they can rely on. The zone is a wild card defense. It is not the type of defense that you can lean on game to game. They will continue to use it in spot situations and see how it goes. If it works they will stay with it, if not they will get out of it quickly.
2.Thunder versus Dirk: The Thunder attempted to keep the ball out of Dirk’s hands as much as possible in Game 2. They pressured the ball a bit more and attempted to front him on post entries. They were not afraid to front him even as he moved up off the post. The Thunder then brought a man from the weak side to support the backside lob pass to Nowitzki. Nick Collison was active with his hands and feet to keep the ball away from Dirk.When Dirk put the ball on the floor from the elbow or top of the key the Thunder were waiting for his spin dribble. They brought help from the closest defender to stop his penetration and steal the ball. These two strategies were not enough to stop Dirk Nowitzki but they were enough to slow him down a bit and not let him get into an unstoppable rhythm. The biggest thing the Thunder did in Game 2 was keep Nowitzki off the free throw line.
3. Bench the MVP: The Dallas Maverick bench may be the best in the NBA. They have only been outscored two times in this years postseason. However they were totally outplayed, and outscored in Game 2 of this series. The Thunder’s bench of James Harden, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, and Daequan Cook scored 50 points compared to Dallas bench of 29. In fact their bench scored 24 of their teams 29 points in the fourth quarter.
4.Oklahoma City Offense: We know that the Thunder will attack with Durant and Westbrook offensively but I think they will continue to attack two matchups. They will go at Jason Terry with Harden and at JJ Barea with Erick Maynor. James Harden is a big time scorer. Look for the Thunder to play him 30 plus minutes the rest of this series. Harden can be a go to scorer versus the Mavericks because of his size, strength and ball handling abilities. He was incredibly efficient in Game 2 scoring 23 points on only 9 shots. Look for the Thunder to put the ball in Hardens hands and run a ton of iso’s and pick and rolls, especially versus Jason Terry. In addition the Thunder will attack JJ Barea. He is a liability on defense due to his size. Look for Eric Maynor to attack Barea and attempt to score and get him in foul trouble. Barea is killing the Thunder scoring 32 points in only 32 minutes in this series and they must do something to limit his effectiveness.
5.How will Scott Brooks handle Russell Westbrook? : Coach Scott Brooks needs Westbrook to play at a high level in order to win this series. Even though he was upset with his play at the end of the 3rd quarter and did not reinsert him into the game in the 4th quarter the Thunder need Westbrook. Westbrook and Brooks need to talk about what happened at the end of the third quarter, then they need to discuss why Brooks stayed with his bench players in the 4th quarter.
Brooks should be open and direct with Westbrook, give him the respect that he deserves and then move on. This is part of the growing up process of Westbrook and if he can handle this minor bump in the road their team will be even better. For Westbrook its all about decisions and decision making. Hopefully for the Thunder he will handle this situation and continue to help his team even more in Game 3.
6.Go to player: As good as Kevin Durant is he will be tested in this series to do even more. Durant is one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA. He is unstoppable in transition. His jump shot is smooth and effortless. Durant must be more selfish as this series moves on. When he has certain matchups they must scratch their offense, he must call for the ball and attack. The Mavs have used Marion, Stevenson, and even Kidd on him. He needs to not just call for the ball but demand the ball. He needs to be aggressive, get to his favorite spots and score. He needs to take the contact he will get and get to the free throw line. Durant must exhibit poise, aggressiveness, and command the ball all at the same time.
Prediction: Thunder win Game 3.