One player does not win a basketball game.
But if Dallas or Oklahoma City can figure out a way to slow the other’s star player in this series — starting with Game 2 Thursday night — they will have a huge leg up. Because in Game 1 those two pretty much scored like Wilt in Hershey.
Part of that is on the officials — they called a tight Game 1 (both ways) and if you can’t be physical with these guys they will shred you. And get to the line a lot (and nothing makes for great television like a parade to the free throw line). Oklahoma City may want to make sure Dirk can’t catch the ball 18 feet out on the right baseline and face up — one he has the battle is lost. Doesn’t matter if you get a hand in his face, he can hit 8 out of 10 blindfolded from there. You have to deny him his spots on the floor.
Same with Durant — they defenders he struggles with are the ones that play great ball denial and don’t let him ever get comfortable. If he does, you lose.
Expect both teams to try and be more physical with the other’s star, look for more hard double teams to come earlier.
All of that has trade offs — double Dirk and those deadly Mavs jump shooters are wide open. Double Durant and you’ll have Russell Westbrook and James Harden flashing to the basket. Will the defenders help the helper, will the rotations be tight? If not, both teams can make you pay.
Westbrook is another key for this Game 2 — not in the he should score 30 way (he can, but it comes at a cost) but can he strike the balance we saw in Game 7 against Memphis. He can score, but he needs to balance the team out. As Beckley Mason said so well, he can’t eat that marshmallow.
There are a lot of interesting things to watch this game. At key moments the Thunder struggled when the Mavericks went to a zone, will they attack it better this game? On the other end, can OKC find a good defensive answer for the J.J. Barea/Nowitzki pick-and-roll?
Game 1 felt like an outlier. A one off. Nowitzki and Durant are elite scorers, but to expect that kind of performance in Game 2 is a mistake. Others will step up, teams will have adjustments. Game 2 will give us a better feel for what the rest of this series will look like.
It’s going to take more than one player to win it.