Coming into this game the biggest matchup issue, the biggest strategy question that both teams faced was “Who can stop Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Durant?”
Turns out nobody.
Durant had 40 points on just 18 shots — and he was the second best player in the game. And his team lost.
Nowitzki finished a redonkulous 48 points on 15 shots, going 24-of-24 from the free throw line and Dallas is ahead in this series 1-0 after a 121-112 win.
Thing is, this was not a flashy, dunking, And1 mix tape 48 points. It was workman like. Blue collar. Lunch pail. He did it by attacking and getting to the line, and draining shots with a hand in his face. He was 9-of-13 from the midrange. The same things he did against the Lakers and Trail Blazers. You get the feeling he could do it again. And again.
But it wasn’t just Dirk. J.J. Barea took over in the fourth (as he did last series) and finished with 21 points on 12 shots, abusing Nate Robinson. Jason Terry dropped 4-of-8 three pointers and had 24.
For stretches of this game it felt like Dallas couldn’t miss, couldn’t make a mistake. They finished 130 points per 100 possessions pace, an insane number.
And they still only won by 9. And it was a five-point game inside of the last five minutes.
And for that reason both teams should feel hopeful after this game.
Dallas got the win, they see nobody has an answer for Dirk, they still sent the Thunder to the free throw line 43 times — a cardinal sin against OKC. (The refs called this game very tight, not much like a conference finals at all.) Dallas let Serge Ibaka rack up 17 points. They could have contested shooters better. In short, their defense wasn’t very good, the Mavs feel like they have a better game in them.
The Thunder saw Nowitzki have a night for the ages (and get to the line 24 times), they saw Barea go off while their star guard Russell Westbrook shoot 3-for-15 — all that and they were not out of it at the end. This game could not have gone much worse and they had a shot to steal the win.
Because of all that this game felt like an outlier, a one off, a fluke. Dallas got the win but you can’t expect Game 2 (or three or beyond) to look or feel the same. Dirk can score, but can he replicate this pace? Can Durant? Can Westbrook get it going (four games against Dallas this season and Westbrook struggled in every one, so maybe not)?
Oklahoma City can defend Dallas better. Dirk someday will miss a shot. And that may be all the Thunder need.
All of which is to say, with all the weapons Dallas brings to the table, this series is far from over. It’s just getting started.