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What Game 1 Taught Us About the Series

What a great game it was. I mean besides that 3rd quarter which was nearly unwatchable. The Dallas Mavericks were in control throughout the second half and the free throw barrage that started then was completely unamusing. No complaints about officiating though. They made it clear pretty early that nobody should even think about getting physical on the stars on both ends of the floor and they remained true to that throughout the game. Because of the dominant performance of Dirk Nowitzki it's easy to lose sight of other facts that will surely impact the series going forward. The most obvious is that Kevin Durant also had 40 points, but unlike this matchup it won't get an own video mainly because it's the playoffs and the winner takes it all. Before looking beyond Dirk's performance let's start with some facts on his historic night:

  • It was the 6th time Dirk reached 40+ in a playoff game. The last time he and an opposing player each scored 40+ in a game was Game 4 of the Denver series in 2009. Dallas won the game 119-117 but went on losing the series 1-4.
  • It's actually the fourth game in Dirk's career where he and an opposing player scored at least 40. The Mavericks are 3-1 in that case. In one of these games back in 2002 the opposing player to score 40+ was Jason Terry.
  • Dirk set a record for 45+ points scored in a playoff game with the fewest field goals made. He is also third on that list with 50 points on 14 FGMs. Although tied up with multiple players I would give him the 1st and 3rd place here because he scored the most points on his attempts.
  • In the very same list, Dirk is first in scoring at least 45+ points in a playoff game with the fewest FGAs with 15. The next players to do so needed at least 23. The next player to score at least 48 points needed 26 FGAs.
  • He joins this exclusive list of players scoring at least 45 points in a playoff game without attempting a single three point field goal
  • Dirk Nowitzki is the only player in the playoffs to shoot at least 75 % from the field and 95% from the line with at least 10 FGAs and FTAs. And yeah, he did it twice: Yesterday and against the Spurs last year.
  • Well mentioned was that he set an NBA-record for most consecutive free throws made in a single game and most free throws attempted without a miss. Previous leader was Paul Pierce with 21. He also tied the record for most free throws made in a single quarter with 13.
  • Last one: Who in the world picked Durant over Dirk in the first All-NBA team?

Fact 1: The Free Throw Attempts at this rate will decrease
I certainly don't hope the series will continue like this because it's really hard to watch. But I think it won't. Both team were shooting aprox. 14 more free throws pp100 than normally. So you could call that an exception. The game ranks 3rd for most FTA pp100 in a single game for the Mavericks this season and 2nd for the Thunder. Although Oklahoma is accustomed to those kind of games this postseason I would expect both players and officials to adjust in Game 2.

Fact 2: Get Chandler involved into the offense
As I've said in my Statistical Roundup of the series their frontcourt with the exception of Kevin Durant is foul prone. If you still needed any evidence to this fact then you would certainly have gotten it last night. One key of exploiting it is Tyson Chandler. I was pretty surprised that the Mavs weren't able to keep Kendrick Perkins in foul trouble after he picked up two early. SynergySports knows that Tyson is a capable PostUp-Player. He scores on 51% of his attempts. That's not an elite value, but with Kendrick Perkins defending it's worth a try. Perkins is a very good help defender and a big presence in the middle who can alter shots but he is not, by any means, a good one-on-one defender. He was in foul trouble in Boston all the time because basically all he can do in a PostUp situation is fouling. What also separates Chandler and Perkins in my eyes is their ability to keep their composure. Chandler can do it, Perkins not so much. I think you could use that against him.
My prediction going into the series was that at least two of their frontcourt players would be in foul trouble in every game and that's what happened last night with Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka.

Fact 3: Russell Westbrook will get it going eventually
Let's make this straight: He had an off night. It wasn't anything the Mavericks have done defensively. Jose Barea stated that the layoff from their off week more or less showed exclusively on the defensive end. So they caught a break here. The biggest problem in that regard is DeShawn Stevenson. Although Westbrook had an awful overall night, he nearly doubled his production with Stevenson guarding him. 28.3 Points on 29% shooting, 5.1 Assists and 23.1 FTA per 36 minutes compared to 13.5 Points on 13% shooting, 1.3 Assists and 13.5 FTA is major. Again consulting SynergySports you'll get an idea what the problem is. Stevenson is a very good individual defender on Isolations and in the Post, but is one of the worse players to defend the P&R on that Mavericks team. And they run an awful lot of P&Rs for Westbrook. Stevenson got caught up on every screen Perkins set for Westbrook which produced good looks for Russell, he just couldn't convert. Defending the P&R in my eyes has more to do with team defense. So I will give them that the layoff has thrown them out of rhythm as a unit. But starting Thursday Stevenson has to do a better job. Otherwise he is exchangeable. He is only out there to provide a defensive edge early in the game. If he can't do that, which in this series would mean defending Westbrook better than anybody else on the team, you can go with whatever player you want because all the others provide more offense than he does.

Fact 4: Peja, Kidd and Stevenson = Westbrook
These three also combined for 3-15, without that much free throw attempts though. Westbrook will be better on Thursday but the Mavericks also have their sleepers. You got to have the highest hopes for Peja here. The Thunder did close out the Mavs shooters well. That's where I come back to Fact 2. If you are going to be able to get Chandler more involved besides Dirk in the Post, it will open up things for the shooters.

Fact 5: Jason Terry said he would outscore the Thunders bench and did so
Certain analysts thought that the Thunder might be deeper. With Jason Terry scoring 24 and the whole Thunder bench 22, are we done with that? Probably not and for a good reason. Their reserves can contribute more and they will. On the other hand: With Peja going only 1-8 it could have been worse for the them. James Harden thought they did a pretty good job on the Mavs bench. Dunno. If that's good, what would the stat sheet look like if things went worse?

Fact 6: Dirk is unguardable
I said I won't come back to that but then I saw this video of Skip Bayless going berserk on Serge Ibaka and the Thunders gameplan of guarding Dirk. So I rewatched the whole game to investigate the unbearable claims he made in his analysis. Here's the truth Skip:

  • Serge Ibaka accounted for 9 of Dirk's Free Throws, committed 1 non-shooting foul, forced a turnover and Dirk shot 8 for 9 over him
  • All others accounted for 10 of Dirk's Free Throws, committed 3 non-shooting fouls, forced a turnover and Dirk shot 4 for 6 over them
  • Thabo Sefolosha accounted for 6 of Dirk's Free Throws, forced a turnover and Dirk shot 1 for 1 over him. The only possessions the Thunder double teamed Dirk were the ones where Thabo guarded him. So he even got a distinct advantage over all the others that they tried on Dirk.

Honestly ... no defender could slow down Dirk. If you want to hand out a defensive award for the best performance against Dirk last night go with Perkins. He held Dirk to 1 for 3 shooting and his lone make against Perkins was on a fastbreak. But anyway: Dirk's performance hasn't had anything to do with the Thunder only using Ibaka on him.