Dirk Nowitzki put on an incredible offensive performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. With eight days rest between their Laker series and the opening game of the Finals the Mavericks were well rested and well prepared. The Mavs shot the ball extremely well (39-73) 53.6% from the field, got to the foul line 34 times and received superior play from its bench. The Mavericks bench outscored the Thunder bench 53-22. Jason Terry (24 points) and JJ Barea (21 points) were too much for the Thunder to combat.
The Thunder should look at Game 1 as the glass half full. With all the things that went the Mavericks way: the Mavs scoring 121 points, the Mavs shooting 53.6% from the field, Nowitzki’s 48 points, the 53 bench points of the Mavs, a subpar game by Russell Westbrook, the Thunder found themselves only down 108-102 with 2:53 left in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder had only one day to prepare for the Mavericks after winning Game 7 versus the Grizzlies on Sunday. Hopefully after reviewing the video they will come up with some more answers regarding their overall defense, their defense of Dirk Nowitzki, and a better performance from their point guard Russell Westbrook. In addition the Thunder must find some way to combat the bench of the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2.
Game 2 Adjustments
1.Limit Dirk’s effectiveness- Nowitzki put on a show scoring 48 points in Game 1. He was (12-15) 80% from the field and a perfect (24-24) 100% from the free throw line. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma City Thunder he got into an early rhythm and was in attack mode the entire game. He mixed in drives with his jump shots. He then took advantage of smaller defenders by shooting over them or getting to the free throw line. The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to make some big decisions as this series progresses. Can they beat the Mavericks if they play Dirk 1-1 or will they have to come and double him? Can they win by allowing him to score 30 plus points? One of the ways they can limit his scoring would be to keep him off the foul line. The Mavericks cannot allow Nowitzki to get to the line so often. He is too good a free throw shooter. If they do not double him, and keep the 1-1 coverage they must pressure him more, push him away from the basket 1-2 more steps and get up into his air space. They must make Dirk put the ball on the floor and not rise up into his shot. Dirk drew 4 fouls on Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison by the 8:42 mark of the 3rd quarter. From that point on the Thunder had no one that could guard Nowitzki. They must keep those two players on him as much as possible and attempt to keep them out of foul trouble.
2.Kevin Durant needs help- Durant was the main reason that the Thunder still had a chance to win this game. The Thunder scratched and clawed their way back in the 4th quarter and cut the lead to 108-102 with 2:53 left in the game. Durant scored 40 points on (10-18) 55% from the field and got to the line 19 times himself, knocking down 18 free throws. The Thunder has no answer for Nowitzki but conversely the Mavericks do not have one for Durant. The problem for the Thunder is that Durant was all by himself, receiving little if any help in Game 1. Durant was incapable of carrying the Thunder to a victory because Russell Westbrook had a subpar game and the Dallas bench overwhelmed the Thunder’s bench. If Nowitzki continues to shoot and score at this rate throughout the series Durant will be forced to match his scoring. Strangely, this might be a better alternative than finding someone that can cover Nowitzki in Game 2.
3. Point guard help- Russell Westbrook had a subpar game last night in Dallas and the Thunder will need him to step up and help Kevin Durant in Game 2. The Thunder cannot win Game 2 without Westbrook playing well. Westbrook scored 20 points, however it came on 3-15 shooting from the field. Westbrook needs to be much more consistent for his team to win this series. Westbrook played a well rounded game in Sunday’s closeout game versus the Grizzlies. He had 14 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. He got himself and his teammates heavily involved in the game. When he has 4 turnovers and 3 assists as he did in Game 1 the Thunder cannot win. Westbrook must continue to find the balance between aggressively looking for his own shot, feeding Durant and Harden the ball when they are hot. He needs to play much better for the Thunder to win this series.
4. Superior bench- the Dallas bench outplayed the Oklahoma City bench in Game 1 and was a huge factor in their win. The Dallas bench exploded for 53 points in Game 1. Jason Terry had 24 points and JJ Barea had 21. The Thunder bench only accounted for 22 points. The Dallas bench is deep and savvy. Between Terry, Barrea, and Stojacovic Rick Carlisle has plenty of offensive weapons to help Dirk Nowitzki. I understand that Nowitzki is a difficult cover and can go for 48 points on a given night. But the Thunder have to do a much better job guarding Terry and Barrea. Barrea killed them in Game 1 with his energy and hustle. He changed the game and took over the fourth quarter (12 points) with his ability to get to the rim off pick and rolls. If the Thunder cannot guard JJ Barea in pick and rolls they do not deserve to win this series.
5. Attacking the zone- the Dallas Mavericks have utilized a 2-3 zone throughout the regular season and in the playoffs. Rick Carlisle used the zone in Game 1 and it proved effective. The zone does several things that help the Mavs. It hinders the Thunder’s ability to get the ball to Kevin Durant. The Mavs do not have players like Tony Allen/Shane Battier to match up versus Durant. Therefore the zone helps them in that respect. Secondly the zone limits the dribble penetration of Russell Westbrook. It helps contain his ability to get to the rim and hopefully keep him off the foul line.
When the Thunder get defensive stops they would like to play quicker, get out in transition and attack before the Mavs can get set. When they do get into half court situations the Thunder must search out Kevin Durant much more in the zone. They must find ways to get him the ball whether it is man or zone.
6. Free throw attempts- this series could be decided by free throws and referees. Nowitzki, Durant, and Westbrook put incredible amounts of pressure on the defense because of their 1-1 abilities. How each game is refereed and how much contact the refs allow may dictate the outcomes of games. In Game 1 the Mavericks attempted 36 free throws and the Thunder 43 free throws for a total of 79. Given the fact that the Nowitzki, Durant, and Westbrook who get the bulk of the free throw attempts are very good free throw shooters it will be hard to win a game in this series if a team keeps sending these guys to the line. The Mavs and Thunder must stop Westbrook’s dribble penetration without fouling. In addition they must be physical with Durant and Nowitzki and contest every shot without fouling. Whichever team can do this without sending the other team to the free throw line has a much improved chance of winning this series.
Prediction: Thunder win Game 2.