All-Access: Mavs Lose Tight Game 1 At OKC
FOREWARD: When Dirk Nowitzki hit a jumper with 2:31 to play to put his team up 94-87 Dallas fans had to feel pretty good. The Dallas Mavericks had responded to every push from the Thunder with one of their own, lending a feel very much familiar to the series of a season ago when Dirk and company held all the late answers.
Only the Thunder surged back with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 94 and the water levels around the Metroplex started to rise -- that is, we began to sweat. Ian Mahinmi did his best to bury a bevy of personal mistakes when he grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled after a crazy play that began when James Harden poked the ball away from Jason Kidd outside the arc.
Kidd dove to the floor to pluck the ball from Harden's grip as he'd attempted to gather the ball and race away for an uncontested dunk. Sitting on the court, Kidd searched desperately for someone to pass to before settling on a long lob in the direction of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk tipped the pass then simultaneously drove and tried to gain control of the ball, only it somehow found its way into the hands of Vince Carter, who was forced to take a contested baseline jumper that would miss … and there was Mahinmi for the board, the foul and two of the most clutch free throws in his career to put the Mavs up 96-94 with 1:03 to play.
Serge Ibaka responded with a dunk and a foul, converted the free throw to put OKC up by one. Dirk answered by draining a pair of free throws with nine seconds left on the clock, earned when he split two defenders to draw a whistle, once more putting the Mavs up one.
And then it happened … again.
CLUTCH OR LUCK OR WHATEVER: Kevin Durant took the inbounds pass with Shawn Marion all over him. Durant drove left parallel to the free-throw line, rose with Marion in his face and did what great players do regardless of the quality of defense they're faced with … he hit the shot.
Great defense … an even better shot. Or maybe "better'' isn't the proper word.
"It looked bad when it left my hands,'' said KD, who scored 25 but shot 10-of-27. "I was struggling all night with my shot, missing open ones. Thank the Lord that one went in, man.''
An uncharacteristically inefficient Dirk did score 25 points, but did so on just 8-of-18 shooting. He struggled to get calls all evening despite repeated aggressive drives to the basket. Jason Terry played a superb game, chipping in 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five assists to finish with a game-high +-98 -- and the argument made by Dirk and others that Jet didn't get the touches he needed.
Add it all up, and the Mavs fall behind 1-0 in the series by a final of 99-98.
THE JET SOARS EARLY: As Dirk struggled early, making only one of his first six shots (though three likely came as victims of a learning curve for how the game was going to be called for most of the night, where a lot of contact was allowed by both teams); Jason Terry was busy picking up right where he left off a year ago.
At the 9:22 mark of the second quarter, Terry was 6-of-6 on his field-goal attempts, including 2-of-2 behind the arc, for 14 points.
By the end of the third quarter Terry was 8-of-9 for 20 points, and then … he would take only one attempt in the fourth quarter, a missed 3-pointer with 10:51 on the clock.
This lack of shots may have been influenced by the defense of the Thunder (Westbrook's sork there) or the fact that Dallas ran much of their offense through Vince Carter and later Dirk, but it felt strange in its stray from what has become the norm for Dallas over the years. Terry wasn't completely invisible, but we saw very little of the Dirk and Terry two-man-game.
And The UberMan, for one, seems a bit dismayed by that.
"I hate to waste a game with Jet like that,'' Dirk said. "He was on fire. ... We've got to find a way to get Jet the ball. He had the hot hand. They denied him everywhere. We've got to counter that."
A SOUND STRATEGY: Russell Westbrook isn't known for his accuracy from the perimeter. He was a 31.6-percent 3-point shooter this season, and whatever fear he instills in a defense comes from his athleticism in the paint, not from his ability to find the net from distance.
The Mavs approach was clearly to grant him space and entice him into long jumpers. Westbrook acquiesced … only they fell. Westbrook finished with a game-high 28 points, hitting 13 of his 23 shots.
Much like the final play of the game, the strategy was sound … the result was not.
LATE EXECUTION: "You know we made mistakes you can't make down the stretch," Rick Carlisle said. "The last shot always gets magnified, but we made some uncharacteristic mistakes that we're not going to make anymore in this series. We can't."
In the final 3:23 of action, Dirk had seven points, hitting two of his three shots … but gave away a pair of uncharacteristic turnovers, one leading directly to dunk from Kevin Durant that put the exclamation point on the 7-0 run the Thunder used to tie the game at 94.
"We were right there,'' says Dallas Mavericks standout Dirk Nowitzki. "We made some mistakes, little stuff like that puts them in transition. We didn't make the plays down the stretch."
Dirk finished with six turnovers, the second most he has ever had in a playoff game (though he has had six three other times). Oddly enough, his career worst for playoff turnovers is seven … coming in Game 3 against the Thunder during the Western Conference Finals, a game the Mavs ultimately won.
We don't expect to see these kind of mistakes from Nowitzki again, but it's hard not to feel this is but a continuation of the ailments that have plagued this team at the end of close games this season. When things could go wrong, they have.
KD's is the fifth game-winning shot made against the Mavs in the final five seconds of contests this season.
And the trend is specific to this foe, too: The Mavs have now played three games at OKC this season, a place that is supposed to be a pit for the visitors. Dallas has indeed lost all three of the meetings -- but has done so despite leading at some point in final minute of each contest.
Hopefully, that turns around very soon or the season may come to an end … very soon.
Though we point at the negative above, it is worth noting that Dirk did score a game-high 11 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter. Remove the turnovers and you had one of the best closers in the game doing what he does, including putting Dallas up with nine seconds to play.
Unfortunately, it proved to be one point too little.
"I feel like all season long, for some reason," Dirk said, "teams are making one more play, one more bounce."
THE RESTED KIDD: Jason Kidd played his final regular-season minutes April 20th against Golden State, giving him seven complete days of "rest" before the April 28 start of this series.
He responded by hitting his first 3-point try and having a fairly unique statistical impact.
His final line of 8 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 7 steals has only been matched in all four categories four times in the playoffs since 1986 … oddly enough, two of those came when Baron Davis did it against Kidd's New Jersey Nets in 2002.
Kidd played 35 minutes and though his shot wasn't falling, he did make an impact on the game. His seven steals also marked a new career postseason high. And he displayed a mastery of the secondary break ...
Unfortunately, his odd unwillingness to attempt layups was also in play here.
MAVSELLANEOUS: Dallas was 30-2 in games they entered the fourth quarter with a lead this season. They are now 0-1 in such games in these playoffs … Shawn Marion hit three 3-pointers, the first time he's done that in a playoff game since May 12, 2007, when he hit three against the Spurs. It marked the ninth time in his career to hit at least three 3-pointers in the postseason … Serge Ibaka ended the game with 22 points by hitting nine of his 12 shots. Those 22 points matched his career high in scoring. He scored 22 once against Utah in the regular season and once last year versus Denver in the playoffs … Marion finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds … Delonte West missed shootaround due to stomach issues either resulting from oysters or food on the team plane, but refused to miss a playoff game. You must respect his spirit, but it's hard not to feel this may have had an impact on his performance … Roddy Beaubois did not get any minutes. So our prediction turns out to be correct. ... "This is definitely as tough of a loss as you can get,'' says, Dirk, adding, "(But) if a team can recover from it, it's an experienced one. We definitely have a lot of old guys that have been through a lot." ... With some level-headed mention, look for Dallas to note that Dirk was a clutch-and-grab victim. (UPDATE: Indeed, Carlisle is using the phrase "grab-and-hold.'' Close enough.) But reasonably understand that Joey Crawford and pals allowed Dallas to shoot more FTs than OKC. And Dirk did have some success fighting through contact to make big shots:
THE FINAL WORD: This is a brutal way to lose a playoff game, but in the long breath needed to recover from the gut-punch landed there is room to find reasons for optimism. Dirk Nowitzki struggled with his shot for much of the night and the Mavs as a whole missed a wealth of either dunks or layups that will lead to points more often than not, and it took a brilliant shot by Kevin Durant in the game's final moments to sink them.
Though the outcome may be the same and some of the late-game miscues that have haunted them this season crept up again, this didn't have the feel of a team that often appeared closer to mediocrity than elite.
Dallas weathered a poor shooting start as a team, hitting only four of their first 14 collective attempts, but fought their way back. Every time, prior to the final basket, the Mavs had an answer for everything the Thunder threw at them. Oklahoma City would make a push and Dallas would shove back. This didn't appear to be an old and slow team limping their way to the grave.
There's no denying that a game that felt well in hand with 2:30 to play was allowed to get away, but that carries with it the fact that this was a game that felt well in hand with 2:30 to play.
The Mavs did not appear to be severely outmatched … and they retain their collective experiences that will not allow them to wilt from the bruise of this loss.
This series isn't over.
"We're going to keep coming at these guys,'' Carlisle said. "Trust me. We have a locker room full of champions. We put ourselves in a strong position and we didn't get it done. That's on us. But we will not be deterred. We're coming out guns blazing every game.''
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