Team Pace Off. Eff. eFG% FTR ORR TOR
Dallas 92.0 105.4 48.1 30.4 25.0 12.7
Oklahoma City 112.0 58.0 26.7 17.6 13.4
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- You know what they say: If you’re going to lose a winnable series in four games, at least go out in an exhibition for one of the game’s most fantastically understated players, supplying the wood for his buzzsaw in what one can ultimately assume will be a daunting display of razor-focused finesse and craftsmanship. James Harden (29 points, 11-16 FG, 3-4 3FG, five rebounds, five assists) gets a raw deal because the public’s attention span can only extend to two star teammates at a time, but he’s far too good to be relegated as some distant third, and far too lethal to be ignored, even for a second. Dallas tried a number of coverages from a variety of directions in the fourth quarter, but none of it mattered — Harden attacked from the same point on the floor at the same angle, repeatedly bludgeoning the Mavericks with his own unique grace. And, as an important extension: credit upon credit to Scott Brooks, who afforded Harden the opportunities he needed without the slightest interference. Harden keyed the offense and out-dueled Dirk Nowitzki, all because his teammates agreed to spot up from the perimeter, because his coach saw an opening and exploited it, and because he’s a ridiculously difficult pick-and-roll cover.
- All of that said, Nowitzki (34 points, 10-25 FG, five rebounds, four assists) was far more than just another foil. This was the first game of the series in which Dirk flirted with last year’s disregard for the impossible; Serge Ibaka had done a terrific job of staying grounded on Nowitzki’s fakes in the first half, but once Dirk began nailing fadeaway after fadeaway after fadeaway, even that newfound discipline couldn’t spare him. Nowitzki finished with 34 points that felt more like 50. He created, built up, and sustained every bit of a lead Dallas could garner, and though he ultimately was a degree removed from the celestial form that guided the Mavs to last year’s title, one can only admire his performance, his poise, and his effort. It’s been a pleasure watching this man in action — in this season as in all seasons.
- I’m not sure this game provided any real ground for ingenuity aside from the fairly predictable revelation that giving the ball to Harden does great things for the OKC offense, but Rick Carlisle and Scott Brooks turned to some pretty strange lineups in their efforts to keep their respective teams humming. For the Thunder, I suspect most were fairly weirded out by the grouping of Harden, Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, and Daequan Cook — a combination that would make shockingly little sense in a vast majority of basketball contexts, and posted a single-game defensive rating of 195.0. For Dallas, we saw more minor maneuvers; Jason Terry’s insertion into the starting lineup, the closing group consisting of Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Delonte West, and Shawn Marion, etc. Those strange brews will only be footnotes of footnotes of Dallas’ final bow, but as part of a fun, competitive game, they added some particular flavor.
- For the briefest moment, it looked as though Dallas’ ball movement had finally broken open the series. The Thunder defense was completely overloaded, and the Maverick shooters feasted from the weak side. Kidd was aggressive. Terry was creating. West, Vince Carter, and Ian Mahinmi were all part of something very real and, hopefully, very sustainable. Dallas finally saw the numbers for the code, and picked apart the Thunder with a startling precision.
And then, just as quickly as that barrage of three-pointers and impressive shot creation came, it vanished. It wasn’t just Harden that downed the Mavs; OKC completely rebooted their defense mid-stride, and once they cut off Dallas’ offensive access points, they were off to the second round.
- Shawn Marion posted up Westbrook, Harden, Durant, Collison, and Thabo Sefolosha, and completed a successful possession (with a made bucket, an assist, or a drawn foul) against each. Dallas finally went back to establishing Marion on the block, and although he did short a much-needed hook-runner-thing late, the fact that he was able to supply any shot creation along with his again outstanding defense was a gift. I remain convinced that Marion could have provided more of an offensive impact had he simply seen more opportunities in the post, perhaps to an extent that could have changed the outcome of the first two games of this series. I don’t aim to overblow one minor aspect of Dallas’ offense, but considering how fine the line has been in this series at times, it’s worth considering if even the most slight of offensive tweaks might have brought us to a different end. It wasn’t meant to be and we’ll never know for sure, but there was a bittersweetness in seeing Marion — even if he finished with just nine points — finally allowed to unleash the aspect of his game that stands out as the most profoundly weird and oddly consistent.
- Russell Westbrook finished with just 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Derek Fisher finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with this alternate reality we’ve stumbled into.