Dirk Nowitzki scored 18 points on a terrible 7-21 shooting night, his worst in this post season. It didn’t matter. He made the important shots in the fourth quarter, keeping the Oklahoma City Thunder at bay, not allowing the hosts, led by a combined 54 from Westbrook and Durant to erase the 22 points lead Dallas built mainly in the first quarter.
Nowitzki missed 10 of his first 14 field goal attempts and hardly got to the line (only 3-3), but the Thunder’s terrible shooting night and defense early on gave the Mavericks a 27-12 lead after the first quarter. It was Russell Westbrook, fresh of his fourth quarter benching in Game 2, that brought the Thunder back in the game, with 30 points. He also had 7 turnovers, so it wasn’t exactly a smooth game from him. Durant? He scored 24 but like Nowitzki, his 7-22 and 0-8 from three wasn’t something to be proud of.
The Thunder as a team shot a disgraceful 1-17 from three, the second worst performance in the last 20 years. The Mavericks had an 1-18 night six years ago. The Thunder only made nine shots further than five feet from the basket.
Bottom line, despite both benches not having anyone really standout, the better performing supporting unit was on the winning side once again. Jason Terry with 13 points led the Mavs’ subs to a 28-16 win in that category. There were no James Harden heroics (7 points) this time for the Thunder.
When memories from the 23-point collapse in that loss against the Blazers in the first round start floating among the Dallas players, Dirk Nowitzki put them to rest with a recognizable calmness and accuracy in the closing minutes. The Mavs started hard and aggressively, as if to prove to the Thunder that the loss in Game 2 has only made them stronger and tougher. Oklahoma never rose to the challenge. They kept throwing bombs from the outside, easily defended. Oklahoma can’t make life that easy for Dallas.
The Thunder need to attack the basket. They way Westbrook did in the fourth quarter. This will make life much easier for Durant and for his teammates who seem reluctant to bomb from long range. The second thing the Thunder need to do is to be more aggressive with Nowitzki. He’s probably the hardest guy in the league to guard right now but they can’t let him kill them every time. Lack of focus and softness defensively just won’t cut it against the 2011 version of the Dallas Mavericks.