Is it still a surprise? Dirk Nowitzki scored 40 points last night for the Dallas Mavericks, his second 40+ night in the series and his 7th post season 40 night in his career. He led a crazy comeback by the Mavs, turning a 15 point deficit with five minutes to go into a 112-105 overtime win, a 3-1 series lead and one win away from their first NBA finals since 2006, the year of the great collapse.
Nowitzki couldn’t be stopped all night, be it Collison (getting 31 minutes) or Ibaka taking their turns on him. Again, nothing new about Nowitzki being this good. It shouldn’t be to anyone by new. The usual tie breaker between these two in their series, the bench scoring, tipped the scales once again. The Dallas bench, led by Jason Terry with 20 points, dropped 40. The Thunder’s? only 21, with Nick Collison scoring 12 and grabbing seven boards. James Harden had a good night with a 7 points and rebounds, but his fouling out late in the fourth led the way for the Thunder’s great collapse.
Kevin Durant (29 points, 15 rebounds) turned the ball over 9 times. Russell Westbrook, with a 19-8-8 stat line, turned it over six times. They didn’t have their best of games, and just melted away when things got hot and heavy. Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion looked younger and impassible on defense, both making key blocks in the fourth and overtime. Jason Kidd put in a huge three in overtime that finished the game.
The big difference was Harden leaving the game. Despite not scoring in big volumes, his presence and his pick n’ rolls couldn’t be handled by the Dallas defense. The Thunder kept going inside and driving hard. After he left, the Thunder kept throwing bricks and didn’t even make one shot from within 15 feet of the basket.
An epic collapse, and as amazing as Durant can be, I don’t think the Thunder can shake this one off, not this year. The Mavericks have shown resiliency, and that kind of attitude breaks opposing teams. It’s not that the Thunder played flawless basketball, far from it. They struggled for long stretches of the game. Still, their defense never stepped up to get the stops it needed, they let Nowitzki take over once again and just choked offensively.
The Thunder’s only win in this series did come in Dallas, so this series isn’t over yet, but watching the Thunder, especially Durant and Westbrook inability to pull their team out of the funk in those closing minutes, I just stopped believing in their ability to win this one. Dirk Nowitzki is just too good, and the Dallas Mavericks just have too much experience and belief for an exciting but error-bound team like the Thunder to do something incredible against. Only two teams without home advantage have made it back from a 3-1 hole in NBA history – The Rockets in 1995 and the Celtics in 1968. Both won the title in those years.