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Dirk Nowitzki did everything for the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, but after leading his team back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Dirk shifted the focus to his teammates. Even though he had every reason to thump his chest after leading an epic comeback in the final minutes, Nowitzki stopped short.
In his postgame press conference (transcript here), Dirk wanted to talk about his teammates. "I's just a bunch of veterans with a lot of unique stories, he said. "A lot of guys been through a lot in this league and have been around forever, a bunch of guys have been to The Finals."
As he continued, "It's a bunch of experienced guys that ultimately have one goal and came together and fought through some stuff, and we all understand that in the 82-game season there are a lot of ups and downs, and you've got to fight through some stuff, fight through injuries. Ultimately you've got to keep your eyes on the prize and keep going, fight through some stuff, and that's what we did."
Nowitzki also went out of his way to praise the defense of guys like Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. "We really got into them," he said. "And I give Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd a lot of credit there, trying to keep Westbrook out of the lane. He really got to the basket a bunch of times today, and Durant, trying to force his catches out a little deeper, and just making shots tough."
"It was a great comeback for us," he added. "One of the best that I can remember."
But don't expect the Mavs to get too comfortable at this point. "Nothing is going to be given to you in this league, especially not in the Playoffs. So we can be a little happy now, but I think starting tomorrow we've got to get focused on Game 5 and just be more solid."
It's part of what makes Dirk so amazing this year. It's not just that he's carrying his team in the fourth quarter and hitting huge shots. But so far, he's had about five different chances to get comfortable, and each time, Dirk's just reloaded and come back harder the next time.
When we thought he'd be rusty after the Lakers series, he came out and had 48 points in Game 1 vs. the Thunder. When it looked like the Thunder might come back to steal Game 3 after his teammates built a huge lead, he came out and drilled a handful of daggers to shut the door. And then in Game 4, when it looked like the Thunder had tied things up, Dirk struck again. Through it all, Dirk's kept coming.
The scary part for OKC and the rest of the NBA? He's not slowing down.
The Dallas Mavericks lulled the Oklahoma City Thunder to sleep in Game 4, but then Dirk Nowitzki woke up, and played beyond our wildest dreams. The NBA Playoffs have been his masterpiece so far, and after Game 4, the picture with Dirk is clearer than ever.
When James Harden picked up his sixth foul trying to stop Shawn Marion with 4:49 left to go in the Oklahoma City Thunder's stunning Game 4 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, few thought much of it. The Thunder were already up 15 points and probably had the game in the bag. In the end, we know that the Mavericks completed a stunning rally to win in overtime. As it turned out, it began right when Harden fouled out.
From that point on, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder 28-6, grinding Oklahoma City's offense to a halt. The Thunder shot just 3-16 from the field after Harden left the game, and threw in four turnovers for good measure. Harden's absence forced the Thunder to go with Thabo Sefolosha, a complete non-factor on offense. That allowed Dallas to lock in more on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook without having to worry that the other three players would beat them. It's no accident that Durant went 0-6 (including 0-5 from three-point range) and committed three turnovers during that span. He couldn't get the ball in scoring position, and without Harden, the Thunder didn't have a secondary playmaker.
We've talked before about the importance of Harden as a bridge between the somewhat divergent talents of Westbrook and Durant. Harden's playmaking ability mitigates Westbrook's sometimes-shaky decision making, and his scoring ability, especially with his ability to spot-up and hit three-pointers, gives Durant more space to operate. Without him on the floor, the Thunder have too few scoring options, and it kills them in tight possessions when they need a basket. That's precisely what caused the Game 4 collapse, and it could have been avoided if Harden was more judicious with his fouls.
Russell Westbrook had another poor game in the Oklahoma City Thunder's stunning overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. The young point guard, who has been getting lots of criticism for his erratic play, shot just 7-22 from the field and had six turnovers. Worse, he couldn't help his team execute properly during its late-game collapse, and while that is not all on him, he deserves some blame.
There have been many theories presented about Westbrook's play in this series and his long-term fit with fellow superstar Kevin Durant, but truthfully, the problem is much simpler. The Mavericks simply have defended Westbrook better than any other team in the league, dating back to the regular season. As Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe notes, Westbrook is now shooting 34 percent from the field in the seven meetings between these two teams.
A deeper look from NBA.com Stats Cube reveals that it's even worse. In three regular-season games against Dallas, Westbrook averaged just 14.3 points per game on 32 percent shooting with a dreadful 41.4 percent true shooting percentage. The Thunder were also outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions when Westbrook was on the court. In this series, Westbrook is averaging 21.8 points per game on 35 percent shooting, which is an improvement, but he's also averaging just 4.8 assists per game and 5.3 turnovers, and he's still been a net negative in the plus/minus department.
This is why team defense is so important in the NBA. The primary defender on Westbrook has usually been Jason Kidd, who one would think is way too slow to chase Westbrook around. But Kidd does a brilliant job of funneling Westbrook into Dallas' help defense and uses Westbrook's shaky decision-making against him. The Mavericks' big men (Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood) do a great job of helping Kidd, and it all forces Westbrook into bad shots and turnovers.
It sounds a bit trite, but when analyzing Westbrook's struggles this series, the truth is the Mavericks deserve way more credit than they are getting. As erratic as Westbrook sometimes is, he doesn't struggle like this against any other team. He's not beating himself as much as the Mavericks' defense is beating him.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 40 points in the Dallas Mavericks' stunning Game 4 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, pushing his team from a 15-point deficit with just five minutes left in regulation to an overtime win. There were two competing but complementary stories coming out of the game: the incredible disintegration of Oklahoma City's offense once James Harden fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, and Nowitzki's objectively amazing shots down the stretch.
One, a half-cocked off-the-dribble floater from the left baseline with two minutes left and the Mavericks down seven, seemed to represent the turning point. Even though the Mavericks had already fought to within single digits and made the Ford Center nervous, even though the Thunder were tightening up considerably, it was still a margin worth respecting.
But if Dirk is going to make shots like that? It's over. It's all over. And it was, eventually; Nowitzki hit a few more head-shakers, Oklahoma City made more than its share of head-shaking decisions -- Kevin Durant's final, fatal fling among them -- and that could very well be the series. The Thunder must now win three straight to earn a trip to the NBA Finals; two of those three, if needed, will be played in Dallas, where Oklahoma City split the first two games of the series.
If the Thunder can't return fire with a longer, more spectacular comeback than even Dallas' 15-point turnaround, the Mavericks will be back in the Finals for the first time since 2006. Of course, the team that beat them in 2006 -- the Miami Heat -- might join them.
With five minutes remaining in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder appeared to have the game in the bag. They were ahead by 15 points and a series tied at 2-2 appeared to be an inevitability. Then, James Harden fouled out and Dirk Nowitzki went crazy. The combination of those two occurrences lead to an unbelievable collapse, and as a result, the Dallas Mavericks have a 3-1 series lead after winning by a final score of 112-105 in overtime.
Nowitzki turned in one of the greatest performances in playoff history, scoring 40 points with 14 of those points coming in the final five minutes of regulation. The shots that he made were absolutely unbelievable off-balance efforts, and as a result, 'Loud City' was silenced.
The game changed when Harden fouled out, at which point, Oklahoma City's offense completely dried up. Harden had seven assists on the night, and with him in the lineup, the Thunder passed brilliantly, worked together as a team, and played generally fluid and dynamic offense. When Harden went down, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook attempted to create shots for themselves instead of each other and their offense struggled considerably.
At the end of the game, the Thunder looked like an absolutely deflated team who had already lost the series. Prior to this game, they were 5-0 following losses, but they have now lost two straight on their home court to the Mavericks. They aren't completely dead yet, but based on tonight's happenings, an Oklahoma City comeback in this series would be absolutely stunning.
Down 2-1 and on their home floor, Game 4 was billed as a virtual must-win for the Oklahoma City Thunder. So far in these playoffs, they have followed up every single loss with a win, and that might still happen Monday night. They've made it difficult on themselves, though, and they're headed to overtime with the score tied up at 101-101. Thanks to spectacular fourth quarter performances by Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, as well as a disappearing act by most of Dirk Nowitzki's supporting cast, the Thunder jumped out to a lead and appeared to be strolling to a win. However, an amazing performance by Nowitzki has brought Dallas back from the brink, and they have a chance to take a crippling 3-1 lead.
Durant's solid all-around performance, along with Ibaka's consistent energy in the fourth quarter helped the Thunder turn their four point third quarter lead into a much bigger lead. All in all, the Thunder outplayed the Mavericks for most of the game, but the final five minutes of the fourth quarter was all Mavericks and all Nowitzki.
At one point, with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City had a 15 point lead. Shortly afterwards, James Harden fouled out, changing the game considerably. Harden had seven points off the bench, but more important were his seven assists. With Harden out and Thabo Sefolosha in, the Thunder's offense looked less fluid and more reliant on Durant and Russell Westbrook creating their own shots. That, combined with Nowitzki going crazy, caused the game to be close late.
With the Mavs down two points with less than a minute remaining, Nick Collison committed a bad non-shooting foul on Nowitzki, sending the star to the free throw line. He unsurprisingly nailed both, tying the game. Oklahoma City's attempt at a game-winner was a total non-event as Shawn Marion blocked a poor attempt by Durant, sending the game into overtime.
Dirk Nowitzki is still playing well for the Dallas Mavericks, but thanks to some solid defense and fast break play from the Oklahoma City Thunder, they continue to lead after three quarters, with the score sitting at 81-77 with 12 minutes left to play. Turnovers are still an issue for both teams, but despite the fact that Oklahoma City did considerably worse than their opponents in that department in the third quarter, they were able to keep a lead.
Russell Westbrook's shooting performance has been average, but his all-around performance has been very good. He has six assists, six rebounds, and three steals, and he's cut down his turnovers since the first quarter. He's probably taking too many shots for Scott Brooks' liking, but he's playing great in all other departments.
The three big man rotating platoon of Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, and Serge Ibaka has been great so far, as they have combined for 12-19 shooting and 12 rebounds. As a team, the Thunder are out-rebounding the Mavs by a considerable margin, and that has been a big part of the difference between the two teams so far.
Dirk Nowitzki came alive for the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter, but the Oklahoma City Thunder lead at halftime by a score of 59-54 thanks to great performances by Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, their bench, and their team defense as a whole. While the likes of Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Thabo Sefolosha aren't lighting it up offensively, they've been suffocating on defense.
The Thunder have eight more rebounds than the Mavericks and they've taken 17 more shots, all while the Mavericks have turned the ball over 11 times. After looking at those numbers, it actually seems like a minor miracle that the Mavs are still involved in the game. Thanks to Nowitzki's 22 points and the Thunder's 10 turnovers, this is still a very close game.
It's been a bit of a sloppy first quarter in Game 4 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks, but the home team has certainly gotten the better of the play so far. Kevin Durant has been the best offensive player on the floor, scoring 10 points on 5-6 shooting. Oklahoma City leads by a score of 31-22 after the first quarter, and their big score is just as much of a product of poor play from Dallas as it is good offensive play.
Dallas already has six turnovers, with a couple of them coming on inbound passes. Both of those turnovers lead to easy dunks, and they weren't the only two that OKC got during the quarter. They haven't been without flaw, though, as they have committed four turnovers of their own. Two of those came from Russell Westbrook, who has made some errant passes.
Between Oklahoma City's great defense and his teammates turning over the ball, Dirk Nowitzki hasn't had a lot of scoring opportunities. As a result, he has just five points on 1-2 shooting from the field and 3-3 from the charity stripe. That miss came at the end of the quarter, courtesy of an emphatic block from Serge Ibaka.
Though it's not an elimination game, tonight's Game 4 in the Western Conference Finals is generally regarded as a do or die game for the Oklahoma City Thunder, as they are down 2-1 in the series against an obviously formidable opponent in the Dallas Mavericks. SB Nation's Oklahoma City Thunder blog, Welcome To Loud City, has picked out a few points of emphasis for their team tonight. One of them is protecting the lane, something they haven't done the best job of thus far. Regarding Game 3 of the series:
Later in the game, the Thunder were on a mad dash to get back in the game, and they darned near pulled it off. However, it was their inability to protect the rim in terms of rebounding that ultimately doomed the Thunder. My unofficial count was that the Mavericks were able to grab about six of their offensive rebounds in the 4th quarter alone. In a quarter where the Mavs only managed to score 23 points, those additional attempts kept the lead at an eight point level for what seemed like half the quarter. It was truly unfortunate, because until the game turned into a free throw shooting contest, the Thunder defense had held Dallas to 18 points.
With players like Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins on the roster, it seems like this would be the least of the Thunder's worries. They've been great on the boards so far in the playoffs, but they absolutely let themselves slip in this department in Game 3.
Meanwhile, SB Nation Dallas has a post up about Rick Carlisle's message to his team. Though the Mavericks won Game 3, Carlisle is looking for hunger from his team, and he's told him that he wants them to go out and play with the intensity that they would have if they were coming off of a loss.
"We've got to concentrate and we've got to be ready for what's coming at us tonight, which is going to be a lot of force. They're going to play a desperate game, for sure. For 48 minutes, we've got to bring a level of intensity."
Down a few energy drinks, then chase them with some espresso. Then you'll be ready for tonight's INTENSE THUNDERMAVS encounter.
In Game 3, the Dallas Mavericks punched the Oklahoma City Thunder in the mouth early in the first quarter, winning that quarter 27-12. That poor Thunder start was due in large part to the lack of offensive movement in the first half. When OKC was finally able to get close, they were unable to stop the Jason Terry/Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-pop. If the Thunder want to even up the series and give themselves a chance at making the NBA Finals, they are going to need to fix both of these problems.
The lack of movement in the Thunder's offense has always been a problem, but when Kevin Durant struggles and is unable to bail the Thunder out, these problems are amplified. When watching the Thunder on offense, you usually see three or more players simply standing around possession after possession:
This time down the court, you have Russell Westbrook bringing the basketball up and attempt to try and call something while dribbling the basketball to the wing. Then nobody moves. After waiting for a while, Kendrick Perkins finally comes over and sets a screen, and Westbrook uses it. After coming off the screen, he tries to kick it out to James Harden, but Shawn Marion is able to get his hand on it and create the turnover. Now, the lack of movement is what allows Marion to get the turnover. He knows that Harden isn't a threat to cut off of his help, so he is able to dive in, stop penetration, and then shoot back out to get his hand on the ball.
Far too often, the Thunder run one action and think that is enough to get the job done. Here, Durant sets a screen for Westbrook in an attempt to run a pick-and-pop and then gets a screen on the backside from Perkins. Durant kind of jogs through the motions, and since Perkins isn't a threat on the offensive end, Tyson Chandler is able to play the passing lane and take the over the top pass away from Westbrook. Now once this action finishes, it is stand around time as everyone stands and watches Westbrook dribble the basketball. Westbrook is forced to try and create, missing the jumper out of isolation.
Here is another example of just one action (setting a screen up top) with everyone standing and watching. This time, we at least get to see a pass, but it goes to Durant who is stepping back to about 30 feet away from the basket. Durant makes the catch, but because he is so far out, his dribble penetration takes him just to the elbow, where he misses the jumper.
What really makes this frustrating is that when the Thunder are actually spaced properly and are moving, they look great (as they should with two of the better players in the league).
On this possession, you know that the Thunder are running a set from the start. Westbrook quickly gets the basketball out of his hands and cuts through as the Thunder start a set. Eventually, Westbrook attacks, but with good spacing, he has a teammate making himself available, kicks the ball out, and then the ball quickly shoots around the outside, forcing Dallas to recover. Eventually, Thabo Sefolosha gets it, pump fakes, and gets the easy lay-in.
The Mavericks have a good but not great defense. There are a few older guys on their roster who aren't even close to being as quick as the guys on the Thunder's roster. You zip the ball around and have guys cutting, you are forcing the Mavericks defense to rotate and recover, when that happens, the Thunder are going to have opportunities to penetrate. They need more of this in Game 4.
In the fourth quarter of game three as Oklahoma City started to fight back, the Mavericks went to a Jason Terry/Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-pop (which is the new Barea/Nowitzki pick-and-pop), and Nick Collison's tendency to hedge on this play led to a few open jumpers for Dallas.
On both of these plays, Collison hedges out on Terry in an effort to keep him from penetrating. While that is a solid strategy against a normal pick-and-pop, but with Nowitzki, you can't do this. Collison had success stopping Nowitzki by staying in his body and not giving him any space. Once you hedge on the pick-and-pop, you can't stay with Dirk or in his body. This gives Nowitzki enough room to hit jumpers.
I understand that Terry is almost as much as a threat as Nowitzki in the fourth quarter, but you can't leave Dirk. Maybe send a rotating defender from somewhere else, maybe hope that Terry's defender can get through the screen, but don't leave Nowitzki open.
Game 4, with the Oklahoma City Thunder done 2-1 and in desperate need of a win after Russell Westbrook went a bit rogue in Game 3? Sounds familiar. The Thunder faced this exact position in the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies; the only difference was that OKC was on the road. On Monday, the Thunder will host the series-leading Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 with Westbrook's cooperation (or lack thereof) with superstar teammate Kevin Durant the overriding narrative.
Westbrook scored 30 in Game 3, hitting eight of 20 from the floor and drawing 14 free throws. He led the Thunder in scoring, as Durant went 0-8 from long-range and scored 24 on 22 shots. But Westbrook, the point guard, had just four assists and seven turnovers. He's a co-star instead of a supporting actor. People have a problem with that. Maybe Durant has a problem with that. Other Thunder players reportedly have a problem with that. Will it doom the Thunder?
Not if they repeat the Memphis series in full. That'd come with a stirring triple-overtime win in Game 4; while we shant count on that, let's keep our fingers crossed. In the meantime, the Thunder must maintain containment of Dirk Nowitzki, who struggled mightily in Game 3 after two big games in Dallas. Oklahoma City also needs better efficiency out of not just Westbrook and Durant, but Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Eric Maynor. With a bit more offense, OKC could have taken Game 3; the Thunder hit just 1-17 three-pointers, and looked short on many of them. Is the long postseason grind -- one in which OKC hasn't had much rest, frankly -- wearing the Thunder down?
We'll see more in Game 4, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Be sure to check out our Mavericks vs. Thunder hub for full series coverage. For more on the Thunder, visit Welcome To Loud City. For more on the Mavericks, visit Mavs Moneyball and SB Nation Dallas.
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