Day 31 – ReDirkulous
3 votes – Dirk Nowitzki. I didn’t see this game until three days later. Usually during the playoffs I won’t go and watch games that are 3-days old because there’s so much new action every day – what happened 3 days ago is old news. But I just had to watch this game to see Dirk, because his performance was quite simply, historic. By now I’m sure you’ve seen the highlights and read all the record-breaking stats, the most amazing of which might be Dirk setting a new record for true shooting percentage. If you wanted to find the most dominant, most efficient playoff performance of all time, this game by Dirk might be #1. He scored 48 points and had only 15 field goal attempts. He took 24 free-throw attempts and didn’t miss one. It extended till the very end of the game when the Mavs needed each and every one of Dirk’s points to kill off this Thunder team.
And there lies the problem for the Mavs. I realise I’m writing this four days later after the series has been leveled at 1-1, but after Game 1 my first reaction was “they had a phenomenal all-time performance from Dirk and they still barely got over the line”. If Dirk had scored a similarly efficient 36 points in this game – an impressive feat in itself – the Mavs would have lost. Think about that. If you’re the Thunder, you take confidence from the fact that you scored 112 points against the Dallas D, and that Dirk had to play the best game of his career to beat you. What the Thunder did in this game appeared sustainable – what Dirk and the Mavs did, did not.
2 votes – Kevin Durant. Obviously overshadowed by Dirk, Durant’s performance was just as brilliant. 40 points on 10-18 shooting, including 18-19 from the stripe, to go with 8 rebounds and 5 assists. And a lot of “uh oh… here we go” moments in the fourth when I thought Durant was going to spoil the Mavs party. After Dirk’s jump-shot put the Mavs up by 10 with 1:40 left the game was seemingly over, Coach Brooks called time out, and the Dallas crowd rightly started celebrating. That shot felt like the dagger, because it was Dirk. And you know what Durant did? Came right back after that break and banged a three (5 seconds into the possession mind you). I loved it. It was the ultimate “this game ain’t over until I say its over” play, and with 1:30 left and the deficit only at 7 points, it was still a ball game. Except for the fact Dirk came back down and nailed another jump shot right in his defenders grill, again. I guess that summed up KD’s night. He did everything you could asked of him. Dirk just did a little more.
1 vote - JJ Barea. Jason Terry had a better game, but I gotta give a vote to Puerto Rican guy for scoring 21 points in 16 minutes. An absolute pocket rocket, once again. He is becoming huge for this Mavs team. He gives them a second guy, other than Jet, who can come off the bench and light a fire under his entire team. Not many teams have that luxury of two guys who can do that. He plays aggressive and fast, always, and he’s fearless. I guess that’s why he ended up in our Wall of Fame over two years ago. We continue to salute you, Puerto Rican Guy.
Day 32 – Hustle and Flow
There was plenty of the former from the Miami Heat in today’s game, as they evened the series with an 85-75 win over Chicago with two home games coming.
Truth be told, the Bulls were never really in this one from the middle of the first quarter. Miami were aggressive throughout without ever really dominating – but their defense was terrific all game which was pretty much what carried them, even during stretches (particularly the start of the 4th quarter) where their offense (that is, LeBron and Wade) weren’t firing.
3 Points – LeBron James. Once again, LeBron gets the points for coming through when it counts. I criticised him through the game on Twitter for over-dribbling and some interesting shots – but he made the ones that count the most. This is why he gets the 3 over the nearly as impressive stats of Dwyane Wade (29/10/5 for Bron, 24/9/2 for Wade).
Now that he seems to be finding his inner closer, one has to wonder:
a) just how good he’s gonna be
b) just how much we can appreciate this greatness when he’s playing with another future HOFer in Dwyane Wade.
2 Points – Udonis Haslem. As I mentioned earlier, the Heat won this game because of defense and hustle. Udonis Haslem provided the emotional heart for this team tonight by setting an example in these areas. Coming off the bench, Haslem put up 13 points and 5 rebounds – but most of what he gave wasn’t measurable on a stat sheet. His aggressive, in-your-face style put Boozer off all night.
1 Point – Dwyane Wade. Rock solid game from Wade. He was Miami’s best player for the Celtics series, and it seems LeBron is taking that mantle for this Chicago series. He went curiously missing in the fourth quarter of this one, but then again, almost every player on this day apart from Lebron went missing in the fourth. Wade was aggressive, and while LeBron was often settling for long J’s and threes (he attempted 6), Wade didn’t attempt a single three all game. Stick to your strengths Dwyane. That’s exactly what he did in this one.
Day 33 – Showing Depth
3 votes – James Harden. Came up huge in this game for Oklahoma down the stretch. He scored a playoff career-high 23 points to go with a team-high 7 boards and 4 assists. In the last quarter of this game the Thunder were almost unrecognisable, with Coach Brooks sticking with Maynor over Westbrook and Durant remaining relatively quiet. It was Harden that stood up and proved (again) that he’s a big-time player. He was also responsible for the call of the game from Mark Jackson after hitting a crazy shot over Jason Terry: “You may be the Jet but I’m a 777… oooh I’m a bad boy”. It was both hilarious and deeply disturbing.
2 votes – The Entire OKC Bench. It wasn’t just Harden that stepped up. The entire OKC bench rose to the occasion. Maynor stole Westbrook’s minutes in the fourth and showed a lot of poise and composure. Collison played outstanding D on Nowitzki, including a huge block and a huge hustle steal that resulted in a Thunder score at the other end. Cook didn’t miss a shot all night. And Harden was player of the game. To put it simply, in this game the Thunder showed me that they have championship depth. To win a road playoff game with your second best player benched for the entire fourth quarter is phenomenal. It show’s not only depth, but a lot of belief. It’s the kind of win you can look back on after you’ve won a championship and think, “hey, that’s where we truly came together as a team”. Character building stuff.
For the record, I tipped the Mavs in 6 for this series. Just thought that had too much experience and too much hunger. But this Game 2 result has me fundamentally doubting everything. I didn’t expect a performance like this from OKC. I saw them go to another level today.
1 vote – Kevin Durant. For all the brilliance of Harden and the Thunder bench, Kevin Durant was still Kevin Durant. He scored 23 points and consumed so much of the Mavs defensive focus. And he didn’t demand the ball late in the fourth which is what ultimately allowed the Thunder to seal it. If I’ve got any knock on KD at the moment, its that I’d love to see him do more play-making. It’s the only area of his game that will stop him from becoming an all-time great in my opinion. He’s brilliant in the iso’s and has almost every shot in the book, but I’d like to see a little more driving and dishing.
There’s no reason Kevin Durant can’t average 4+ assists, yet he’s only averaging 2.6 this post-season (and 2.7 for his career). KD being more of a play-maker will only have a positive effect on Westbrook. Seeing your #1 guy who is an offensive weapon continue to make plays sets the tone for your team. It makes everything easier for everyone. For all of Kobe’s offensive brilliance, he still averaged 5+ assists over the last decade. Ok, so Kobe’s a guard. But T-Mac was a 5+ assist guy in his prime too, and Pierce has been 4+ most of his career. There’s no reason we shouldn’t hold Durant to those same standards given how talented he can be.