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NBA Playoffs: Dirk dominates, but this series is just getting started

May 18, 2011, 1:22 AM EDT

Dirk Nowitzki

Coming into this game the biggest matchup issue, the biggest strategy question that both teams faced was “Who can stop Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Durant?”

Turns out nobody.

Durant had 40 points on just 18 shots — and he was the second best player in the game. And his team lost.

Nowitzki finished a redonkulous 48 points on 15 shots, going 24-of-24 from the free throw line and Dallas is ahead in this series 1-0 after a 121-112 win.

Thing is, this was not a flashy, dunking, And1 mix tape 48 points. It was workman like. Blue collar. Lunch pail. He did it by attacking and getting to the line, and draining shots with a hand in his face. He was 9-of-13 from the midrange. The same things he did against the Lakers and Trail Blazers. You get the feeling he could do it again. And again.

But it wasn’t just Dirk. J.J. Barea took over in the fourth (as he did last series) and finished with 21 points on 12 shots, abusing Nate Robinson. Jason Terry dropped 4-of-8 three pointers and had 24.

For stretches of this game it felt like Dallas couldn’t miss, couldn’t make a mistake. They finished 130 points per 100 possessions pace, an insane number.

And they still only won by 9. And it was a five-point game inside of the last five minutes.

And for that reason both teams should feel hopeful after this game.

Dallas got the win, they see nobody has an answer for Dirk, they still sent the Thunder to the free throw line 43 times — a cardinal sin against OKC. (The refs called this game very tight, not much like a conference finals at all.) Dallas let Serge Ibaka rack up 17 points. They could have contested shooters better. In short, their defense wasn’t very good, the Mavs feel like they have a better game in them.

The Thunder saw Nowitzki have a night for the ages (and get to the line 24 times), they saw Barea go off while their star guard Russell Westbrook shoot 3-for-15 — all that and they were not out of it at the end. This game could not have gone much worse and they had a shot to steal the win.

Because of all that this game felt like an outlier, a one off, a fluke. Dallas got the win but you can’t expect Game 2 (or three or beyond) to look or feel the same. Dirk can score, but can he replicate this pace? Can Durant? Can Westbrook get it going (four games against Dallas this season and Westbrook struggled in every one, so maybe not)?

Oklahoma City can defend Dallas better. Dirk someday will miss a shot. And that may be all the Thunder need.

All of which is to say, with all the weapons Dallas brings to the table, this series is far from over. It’s just getting started.

  1. passerby23 - May 18, 2011 at 1:46 AM

    This is the big mistake writers make in microanalyzing stats. Is Dirk going to go 24-24 from the line and drop 48 pts again? I doubt it. But, who cares? The dynamic of each game is different. Dirk may not have to score 48 again, but will Peja go 1-8 again? Will Serge Ibaka go for 17 pts again? Strategies change. Different players will step up. You can say Russell Westbrook won’t go 3-15 again, but maybe Durant won’t go for 40 again.

    The same arguments were made about the last series with the Lakers, i.e. the Lakers won’t execute that poorly down the stretch again, they’ll make Dirk defend more in the post, Dallas can’t keep shooting that well, etc. And they were swept.

    Look, it’s going to be a competitive series, but all the individual stats don’t mean all that much in the end.

  2. dwighthowardisamazing - May 18, 2011 at 1:58 AM

    from the moment dirk stepped on the court, it was obvious how much he wanted the win. this will be a fantastic series, with both teams being amazing, but it may come down to who wants it more, and at this point, it’s looking like dallas.

  3. rickmirer - May 18, 2011 at 1:59 AM

    Redonkulous? Really? That’s the word you choose? Actually, that was redonkulous! Great choice of words! Dirk is a beast, sweep the Chunder!

    Sincerely,

    Bitter Sonics Fan

  4. dwighthowardisamazing - May 18, 2011 at 1:59 AM

    also: BARREA WAS A BEAST

  5. rickmirer - May 18, 2011 at 3:12 AM

    Barea is oddly amazing. Great option coming off the bench. I hope the next game has way less free throws.

  6. florida727 - May 18, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    Does anyone in the west play defense? Winner of the east = NBA Champion, at least this year.

  7. delius1967 - May 18, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    This game was called way too tightly — ticky-tack fouls on both sides. When 79 free throws are taken, something has to be wrong. It almost makes you think the refs had bet the over.

    I actually thought Dallas played great defense in the first half. Chandler mostly disappeared in the third quarter after being a force early on. He needs to sustain his energy for the entire game.

    What was lost in the shadow of Dirk’s amazing performance was how BAD the rest of the Dallas starters were. 8-19 from the field, only 2-3 from the line — how do four starters only take three free throws ?!? — and they were careless with the ball. Jason Kidd ended up with just three points. I hope they got that rust shaken off and are back in form on Thursday.

    • philiplewis1 - May 18, 2011 at 11:04 AM

      I’m all for the game being called per the rules. A foul is a foul no matter what part of the season you are in. The NBA champ should be the one with the best basketball skills, not the one with the best muggers, hackers, slappers, shovers, etc. Until the rules are changed, call the game per the rule. And don’t give preferential treatment to superstars. Of all people, they don’t need the help. Refereeing 101 says “Be objective and call the game according to the rule book”. When you do that, players adjust. If game 2 is called the same way, players will stop doing the acts that are getting them in foul trouble. Then you’ve got a game of skill instead of the pushing, mugging variety that tends to exist in the Eastern Conference. If the game is 150-145, so what. 40 years ago, we used to see games like that all the time and they were great to watch.

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