Dallas Mavericks seven foot forward Dirk Nowitzki scored 48 points to lead his team to a 121-112 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant in game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals. Nowitzki shot 12 of 15 from the field and a perfect 24 for 24 from the free throw line. He needed evey one of those points as Durant scored 40 for the Thunder in a losing effort. Nowitzki’s 24 straight free throws set a playoff record breaking the old mark of 21 set by Boston Celtic Paul Pierce in 2003.
The difference was that Nowitzki got scoring help from his Dallas Maverick teammates while Durant did not. While Nowitzki was pouring in his 48 Maverick guards Jason Terry and J.J. Barea added 24 and 21 points respectivlely. Meanwhile though he finished with 20 points Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook struggled shooting as he went 3 for 15 from the field. Overall the Mavericks as a team shot 53% from the field while Oklahoma City shot 47%. On another night Durant would have been the star as he shot 10 of 18 from the field and hit 18 of his 19 free throw attempts. But this night belonged to Nowitzki as most of the 2011 NBA playoffs have so far.
Dirk Nowitzki has always been one of the top players in the NBA. He is arguably the best shooting big man in the game today. Nowitzki can not only shoot the jump shot, he can put the ball on the floor and go to the basket. Nowitzki can also create space between he and his defender with ball fakes, fadeaways and turnaround jumpers. He is good facing the basket and with his back to the basket. Tonight he showed his entire game.
Durant was no less spectacular. With his team down in the fourth quarter, Durant kept Oklahoma City close by making jump shots and getting to the free throw line. If the Thunder had gotten a typical Russell Westbrook game the outcome may have been different. They did not while Dallas got a typical Jason Terry game and more than enough bench scoring led by Barea. At one point Barea scored 12 straight as he drove to the basket at will and added a three pointer to the mix. Barea’s scoring in the fourth quarter was enough to help Dallas keep their cushion until Nowitzki and Terry could finish off the Thunder.
Dallas won this game with simple basketball 101. Put the ball in the basket. As much as we hear about defense, basketball is won by the team which scores the most points. And it will always be this way as long as there is a shot clock. Because sooner or later you have to give the ball to the other team. And they are going to score. Dr. James Naismaith did not invent basketball with defense in mind. He invented basketball so that players could hone the skills of dribbling, passing and shooting.
And tonight the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki did just that. The Mavericks got Nowitzki the ball near the paint and Nowitzki put it in the basket. Oklahoma City tried six different defenders on Nowitzki and he scored on all of them. When he didn’t score from the field he calmly went to the free throw line and did it from there. And as mentioned earlier, Terry and Barea made sure that Nowitzki got the help he needed by hitting big shots when they had to.
It’s only one game, but Oklahoma City is going to have to make adjustments quickly or they will go the way of the the Los Angeles Lakers who lost to the Mavericks in a four game sweep. It is obvious that Durant is going to get his points. The only thing that the Thunder have to change offensively is getting Durant the ball closer to the basket as most of his shot opportunities came on the perimeter. And Westbrook has to put the ball in the basket when he gets to the rim. Oklahoma City will solve those problems before the series is over.
The defense is another story, because of Nowitzki. He has been doing this for years. Dirk Nowitzki has been one of the best big men in basketball history. But he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, because he has not won a title. Many think that he has come up small in playoff situations especially the 2006 NBA Finals when the Mavericks lost to the Miami Heat and Dwayne Wade after having a two games to none lead. I don’t buy that at all.
I think that Nowitzki has played well in the post season. The man has six 40 point post season games. It is my belief that the only reason Nowitzki (and his teammate Terry) do not have championship rings is because Dallas owner Mark Cuban traded away point guard Steve Nash before the 2005-06 season. The combination of Nash and Nowitzki was a Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside for Dallas which had the potential to win a title. With Nash in the lineup in the 2006 Finals Dallas would have had someone to rival Wade at the point guard position. But we will never know if Nash could have been the diffrerence, because Cuban traded him. So Nowitzki is left to build his playoff legacy without the one man who could have gotten him a championship sooner rather than later. If game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals are any indication, he is up to the task. As he always has been.
But Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder are not done yet. There is still a long way to go and the silky smooth Durant will give Nowitzki and the Mavericks all they can handle.
I hope Nowitzki and Durant score 40 every night. And Terry and Westbrook chip in with 20 to 25. Because to me that’s the way basketball should be played.
That’s basketball 101