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NBA Playoffs: Thunder should be optimistic, they were in it

May 18, 2011, 1:04 PM EDT

Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Durant drives ball past Dallas Mavericks small forward Marion in Dallas Reuters

It was close.

After Kevin Durant drained two free throws it was a five-point Mavericks lead with 4:18 left. Get a stop, knock down a shot and it’s a one possession game.

Tuesday’s Dallas win didn’t feel close — Dirk Nowitzki went off, the Mavs got 53 points from its bench and with each big shot it felt like the Mavs were doing to the Thunder what they did to the Lakers in Game 4.

Except they didn’t. And that is the big positive the Thunder come out of Game 1 with — Dallas played a nearly perfect game for it and Oklahoma City still had a shot in the end. There are plenty of adjustments to make, but the Thunder were in it despite all the problems ad that has to make them feel good.

Because Oklahoma City can play better.

“I could bet my whole house that Russell Westbrook won’t go 3-15 again,” Kevin Durant said after the game.

Actually, that might be a concern — in three meetings this season Westbrook averaged just 14.3 points on 32 percent shooting and hit no threes. (His season average was 21.9 points on 44 percent shooting.) Westbrook has yet to have a good game this season against Dallas and that is starting to look like a trend, not a fluke.

But there are things the Thunder can do. They might want to make it harder for Nowitzki to get the ball 18 feet out on the right baseline, for one. He kind of likes that spot. The Thunder also need to get out in transition more, force turnovers and run on every miss. Even in the half court more they need to get inside and not settle for jumpers (especially against the zone Dallas threw out in spots).

Oklahoma City  did learn that Dallas has no good answer for defending Kevin Durant. OKC has real advantages in terms of athleticism they need to exploit. They need to use those on the defensive end to contest better — Dallas is a very good jump shooting team, you can’t think just protecting the paint is enough. The Lakers did a nice job protecting the paint for long stretches, see where it got them. You have to make it harder on their shooters.

Oklahoma City just needs to be a little better at it — they were already close.

  1. downtowndanny - May 18, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    nobody is gonna beat dallas if you let Dirk get comfortable, all through they playoffs he’s been able to get to his spots as a shooter. you need to front Dirk, make him put the ball on the floor and beat you in transition, where I think Ibaka & co would have more success. The same goes for Terry, he can’t be allowed to camp out on the wing, you have to pressure the outside shooters and make Dirk drive into your defense in order to have a chance and then be ready to rebound. 1 and dones, no second chance points. Dallas is deep, you gotta bust your ass on the defensive end, hold them to around 80 and you give yourself a chance…

  2. delius1967 - May 18, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    Sure the Thunder can play better, but so can the Mavs. Do you think Kidd, Chandler, and Stevenson will only score three points each again? That Stojakovich will go 1-6?

    It seems strange to say this, but scoring is not an additive game. You can’t look at 112 points and say, gee, with Westbrook playing better, they might have had 130! If he is scoring, someone else might not be. Chances are Dirk won’t have 48 on Thursday, but other people will score more.

    Chances are that the next game will be lower scoring. Both teams were jacked up for the series and played well offensively. As they settle down and adjust their defenses, the scores will drop.

    • jjared1101 - May 18, 2011 at 3:21 PM

      adding to that…

      This was the first time in the playoffs that Dallas’ opponent scored over 100 pts. Their defense can play better than what they did last night. Dirk may not get 48 pts and 24 ft attempts again, but Druant may not get 40 pts and 19 ft attempts again either. There were 70 some odd foul shots, so that probably won’t happen again either.

      Both teams are going to get offense no matter what, but once the whistle is swallowed a little bit, it will come down to execution and defensive stops.

      With all that said, they lost a game on a historic performance by an all time great. No shame in that. Dallas has done what it should, and that’s winning at home. They have to do that again and if they do, OKC should still feel ok. Very early in the seires.

      The saying goes, “it’s not a series until someone wins on the road.”

  3. md23rewlz - May 18, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    Oklahoma City should be optimistic because they were “in it”? Congrats to them for not getting their doors blown off. I guess. This is the playoffs, I don’t really think a team should be optimistic merely because they’re competitive in a game. I would expect most teams in the playoffs to be competitive. Dallas was up by double-digits with eight minutes to go and eased up. Had they blown it, it would have been a major collapse–but they didn’t blow it. I don’t think anybody can really say that they didn’t have control of the game in the second half. Dallas did what it had to do.

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