He has been the best player in the playoffs so far —26.5 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting, 60 percent from three. He destroyed Pau Gasol in the second round.
And outside of hiring Jeff Gillooly, there may not be a good way for the Oklahoma City Thunder to slow down Dirk Nowitzki. Not that there really is a way to stop a seven-footer shooting one-legged rainbow fadeaways, but the Thunder are not well equipped to do the things that would slow him down.
During the two regular season meetings between these teams when Nowitzki played, Jeff Green got a lot of time defending Dirk. That didn’t really work. This season, when Dirk was on the floor against the Thunder, the Mavericks offensive rating was a ridiculous 131.7 points per 100 possession, as reported by our own Rob Mahoney pointed out at his Mavericks blog The Two Man Game. (For comparison, Denver had he best offense in the NBA this past season at 112.3 points per 100.) That’s not all Dirk, but the Thunder need to slow him down.
Expect Serge Ibaka to get the first shot Dirk, but he may end up in fast foul trouble if not ineffective. Serge wants to block shots, be aggressive. Nowitzki will throw a series of jab steps, head fakes and get the eager Ibaka off balance, then take advantage.
After that, look for Nick Collison, who had a better series against Zach Randolph than Ibaka did. Collison is physical enough to push Dirk out of his favorite spaces, but Nowitzki also has a lot more weapons at his disposal and better range than Randolph.
The stats guys at ESPN proposed three things the Thunder can do to slow Dirk: 1) Pressure him all the way out to the arc, don’t give him an easy inch of ground to work with; 2) Double him but only when Peja Stojakovic and other great outside shooters are not on the floor; 3) Don’t foul him.
And all that might not be enough.
It’s overly simplistic to have the Mavericks/Thunder series boil down to Durant vs. Nowitzki. A lot more will go into this series. But whoever’s superstar can be more consistent gives his team a big advantage.
And Mahoney adds that may well be the Mavs.
What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.