The Mavericks are on the ropes. A 23-point lead earlier in their Game 3 in 2011 against the Thunder had been whittled all the way to single digits in the fourth. Up only 80-74 in Oklahoma City and a daunting crowd wailing at their absolute peak, Dallas looked cooked.
Dirk Nowitzki didn’t have it. He was having a horrible shooting night, missing plenty of shots he normally makes. A wonky foul night let the Thunder live at the line while the Mavericks barely got there. The OKC crowd was juiced, just their second playoff run in the team’s history. It’s cooled down a little now that the great team of the 2010s is gone, but in their heyday that Thunder crowd was one of the loudest I’d ever heard. Just constant noise. Even when the Mavericks were up big, you would think the Thunder were winning.
The crowd wouldn’t let up and neither would the Thunder. That’s the thing that stood out on the re-watch. The Mavericks were the better team. They were making better plays, getting better shots. But the Thunder just kept coming. Their youthful athleticism with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all in their primes was undeniable. It felt like there was nothing you could do — one moment a possession is stalling out and the next Westbrook is ramming the ball down the rim.
Through all of that, Dirk still found something. On their next possession after the Thunder cut it to 80-74, Dirk just calmly isolated against Nick Collison, made a couple of dribbles near the free throw line after a quick post up and just flipped in a short 13-foot jumper. On the other end, Westbrook gets fouled but only makes one free throw. The Mavericks then go right back to the well, the place Dirk torched his whole career — isolation at the free throw line, four players below him spread out across the baseline. Again, Dirk makes a simple move and lofts the ball over Collison and in. Just like that, the Mavericks had a 9-point lead and some much needed breathing room.
It’s absolutely crazy how clutch this Mavericks team was. Our friend Andy wrote about this on Sunday, but re-watching this title run, it’s still pretty amazing to see. The Mavericks had the best closer in the game, surrounded by quality role players, whether it was defenders like Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler or a steady hand at point guard with Jason Kidd. Dirk played like ass, he shot 7-for-21 for the game but he scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. That’s just sorta what Dirk did all the time, except now he had the teammates to make sure he wasn’t totally alone.
Sheesh, that Mavericks team was just perfect. Onto the notes.
- The biggest thing that stood out on this re-watch was just how unbelievable Jason Kidd was despite his rather humble box scores. He had 13 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals, which is a pretty outstanding line, but the most impressive part? 37 minutes, two turnovers. Kidd was masterful at keeping things calm, despite Westbrook flying around like a maniac. The Thunder thrived in their early incarnations at causing chaos with the long arms and speed and they desperately hounded Kidd every time he dribbled the ball up the court in the second half. It rarely phased him and Dallas only had 12 turnover for the game. Hell, seven of those 12 were from Dirk, who had a pretty crappy first three quarters. Only three turnovers combined for the Mavericks point guards. That’s pretty special in a hostile environment playoff game.
- I dunno what it is about these games I picked, but the Mavericks got some crazy bad three point shooting games from their opponents. The last game I wrote about, Game 2 against the Lakers, they were 2-for-20 from three and missed their first 15 threes. Against the Thunder in Game 3, OKC missed their first 13 threes and finished 1-for-17. It’s not like the Mavericks had a great night themselves, just 7-for-21, but that’s another huge advantage at the three point line. An 18-point swing on threes in a six-point game? That’s huge. You could really see OKC’s inexperience show in the fourth quarter after their flurry. They bricked so many terrible threes early in the shot-clock, looking for the dagger. Contrast that with Dallas’ calm half-court approach and the difference was stark.
- In case you were wondering if James Harden sucks to watch nine years ago as he does today, spoiler alert: he totally does! This time it wasn’t an obnoxious amount of free throws, but flopping hard into Tyson Chandler’s arms after Chandler grabbed a rebound. Harden basically runs himself into Chandler and then hits the deck like he got shot and got the refs to call a technical on Chandler. I remember being enraged at the time and the re-watch still made my blood boil. If I may put on my homer pants for one second: the refs were trash in that game. Late in the fourth quarter, before Dallas got a lot of freebies to close the game out, OKC had a 33 to 12 free throw advantage. The Mavericks finished with 18 free throws and Westbrook had 14. Now, I won’t say the Thunder didn’t deserve a lot of trips, because again, Westbrook was just relentless but the refs swallowed the whistle on the other end. They did and I don’t care what that makes me. Let me be a fan again.
- We’ve talked a lot about how the Mavericks hung on late, but they were absolutely masterful in the first two-thirds of this game. Just look at the assist totals for the team to showcase the discrepancy in play — the Mavericks had 21 assists to the Thunder’s 11. The Mavericks just whizzed the ball all over the court, Dirk made some solid reads out of the double-teams (but not a ton because, again, seven turnovers) and just about every Maverick knew what to do with the ball when they got it. It was fun to see the Mavericks embrace the pick and roll, spread style we see today, with the ball just pinging to every spot. Marion and Chandler benefited the most, with those two combining to go 12-for-16 from the floor for 26 points.
- Chandler was probably the MVP of the game, with honorable mentions of Dirk, Marion and Kidd close behind. He had 8 points and 15 rebounds and just did a helluva job meeting every Thunder at the rim. OKC might have lived at the line, but Durant shot 7-of-22, Westbrook was 8-of-20, Serge Ibaka was 4-of-11 and Harden was 2-of-9. Chandler was just so good at being at the right spot at the right time. This is a broken record right now, but the clutch stuff we talked about before on offense translates to the other end — the Mavericks had a deep trust on the defensive end. You can just tell in their rotations. Another masterful defensive performance, boosted by some luck on the missed threes.