If you thought the playoff series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies was exciting, then you must be drooling over the Western Conference Finals after watching game one.
The Dallas Mavericks looked like they were a defending NBA champion the way they surgically attacked the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavericks were able to score seemingly at will against what was supposed to be a strong Thunder defense.
As I felt at the beginning of this series, both teams match-up well and if anything, the Thunder are a deeper team. But as game one showed, the experience of the Mavs and the precision in their attack was the difference in game one.
Dirk Nowitzki was unstoppable as he destroyed any Thunder defender coach Brooks sent his way. And when the Thunder brought the double team, disco Dirk found open shooters. And when they tried to guard him one-on-one, Dirk drew fouls at will as he shot a record 24-24 from the charity stripe to end the night with 48 points. It was a brilliant performance. But we knew the Thunder didn’t have anyone that could guard Dirk.
We also knew that unlike the Grizzlies, the Mavs didn’t have anyone that could remotely guard Kevin Durant. Durant finished the night with 40 points and shot 18/19 from free throw line.
People will talk about the poor play of Russell Westbrook and the lack of production from the Thunder’s bench, and while that’s a cause for concern, that’s not what lost this game for the Thunder. It’s tough to get consistent bench production on the road and the Thunder’s bench is good enough that you can expect them to bounce back. You won’t see Maynor and Harden combine for just 12 points very often. And as for Westbrook, we’ve seen this Jeykll and Hyde act before, that’s what you get from a shoot- first, 22 year old point guard.
The Mavs flat out beat the Thunder by playing smarter basket-ball. If you want to win in the playoffs, you must exploit mismatches. If you watched the game, during the second half almost every single time down on offense when Dirk was on the floor, the ball was going into his hands to force the Thunder to stop him. As a result, the Thunder found themselves in foul trouble and in constant defensive rotation. As the Lakers discovered, the Mavs shooters who are among the most potent and prolific three point bombers in the game don’t need much space to hurt you.
The Thunder could have done the same thing, but too often it appeared like they were clueless to figure out how to ride the hot hand of Kevin Durant. Experience over talent? Experience won game one. There’s no way Durant should have a game like that and not be able to free things up for Westbrook or Harden and Maynor.
Instead, the Thunder played right into the Mavs defensive strategy, which was to allow Durant to get his points and limit everyone else’s production.
Scott Brooks will try and take a page out of Rick Carlisle’s book for game 2 and he’ll also have to find a defensive strategy to limit the production of the little big man J.J Barea, which is something nobody has been able to do thus far in the playoffs. The story of Barea is an excellent one, looking at him now, it’s hard to believe this guy was shunned on Draft Day.
But at the end of the day, allowing 121 points in a Western Conference Finals game isn’t going to put you in the win column too often.