They couldn’t stop Nowitzki again. He didn’t blow up with 48, just a ‘regular’ 29 point night. They did outscore the Mavericks bench, the real lethat weapon for the Mavericks in these playoffs. Kevin Durant scored 24 points while the Thunder bench added 50 more, with James Harden scoring 23, his highest output in these playoffs, leading the Thunder to a 106-100 win.
Now, I don’t think the Thunder’s defense suddenly became an impenetrable wall. The Mavs did score 100 points and got 40 points in the paint. Nowitzki shot 10-17 and Tyson Chandler partied in the paint with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Nevertheless, the Mavericks weren’t ready for a situation in which their bench couldn’t carry them when it had to, as Dirk Nowitzki put it – We were never really ready for their reserves.
James Harden’s 23 points, Eric Maynor’s 13 and as usual, Nick Collison’s fantastic all around play with six points and 7 boards gave the Thunder the edge. Jason Terry, averaging just under 18 points in the postseason, finished with only nine points. The second unit for the Thunder stepped up, and carried them when they were down by 11 near the end of the first quarter, 28-17. It turned to 40-35 very quickly, including that huge dunk by Durant on Brendan Haywood. The Thunder never looked back.
And we haven’t even talked about Russell Westbrook yet, maybe the most interesting story coming out of this game. Westbrook had a decent stat line – 18 points, 7-15 from the field, 4 assists. The big thing was him not playing in crunch time, as coach Brooks preferred Eric Maynor as his on floor general. Westbrook forced one shot too many in the fourth for Brooks’ liking. Everyone said afterwards, including Brooks and Westbrook, that there’s nothing to it, the team was winning and playing well with Durant and the subs so there was no reason in changing… I don’t buy it. Maybe it’ll even work for the best and have Westbrook explode in Game 3.
Russell Westbrook is an exceptional talent. Right now he’s probably the fourth or fifth best point guard in the league, and on some nights he can look like the best. Still, his shoot first mentality on many plays is what gets head coaches all red in the face. Brooks gave Westbrook quite a scolding when he took him off, and Westbrook was steaming for quite a while during his benching. For the Thunder’s sake, lets hope Brooks knows what he’s doing.
Rick Carlisle spoke about defense as the number one reason they couldn’t make it 2-0. Well, they didn’t play that much of a defensive game in Game 1. You can’t completely stop Durant, that’s a given. Him scoring 24 is much less than expected. Preparation and adjustment, that’s were the Mavericks failed, much like the Bulls in Game 2 against Miami. James Harden and his group brought out a much better effort and there was no one to answer their challenge.
For Durant, nights like these are a blessing. The offensive load was shared and he didn’t need to take it all on himself. As much as it is hard to stop him, Durant doesn’t have that score no matter what mentality. I don’t think he minds not being the big star of the show if it benefits the team, unlike lets say, a Kobe Bryant who’s now enjoying an unfamiliar May vacation. The Thunder need Westbrook to get in that mindset, play like he did in Game 7 against the Grizzlies. The Thunder will be much better for it.