I had a nightmare last night. The Dallas Mavericks had beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder, and all they had to do was pass it Dirk on the wing over and over again. Unfortunately, after checking the box score this morning, my nightmare proved to a reality. Dirk had gone to the wing over and over and over again, and nobody had done a thing to stop him.
I can understand not wanting to put a second man on Dirk because of his excellent court vision. But after watching every single Thunder player try to make Dirk miss a shot via traditional means, you'd think an adjustment would be in order. Dirk went off for 24 points on 12-15 shooting while hitting 24 consecutive free throws, not because of creative plays. He made that simply because the Thunder were unwilling to make adjustments for a 7 foot tall shooter.
Below: How To Guard Dirk, What Barea Did, Other Problems, Improving Defensively, Awards!
I know I reference the Warriors way too much on this blog, but there is something to be learned from how they defeated Dirk and the Mavs in 2007. They stayed in front of him, and never let him get the ball. I wouldn't have any problem with a guy like Sefolosha put on Dirk, simply to get in front of him and make sure the ball goes elsewhere. If he fails, then have a big waiting nearby in the post to pick up the defense. Dirk will never take a guy down to the block and overpower him, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem to have the big guy a few feet away in the post. Since the Thunder are unwilling to double team Dirk because they want to lock down the paint, this seems like a sensible solution.
Of course, if they were willing to open up the lane, it would make more sense to double-team Dirk. The Mavericks aren't ferocious drivers as a whole. Rather, they rely on JJ Barea to do most of their paint scoring for them. So if Barea isn't in the game, the need to lock down the paint becomes less immediate.
Dirk wasn't the only problem for the Thunder tonight. JJ Barea absolutely tore up the Thunder as a point guard, something that Russell Westbrook couldn't accomplish tonight. He set up soccer-like plays and brilliant screens that allowed him to move almost flawlessly through the Thunder defense. He was so quick that Scott Brooks tried using Nate Robinson to guard him. The experiment failed miserably, as Nate Robinson would prevent Barea from getting too close to the basket, but once Barea was close enough, he could just shoot an uncontested shot. Additionally, Robinson was a travesty on offense, getting a three blocked and missing another wide-open attempt.
The third problem the Thunder had was stopping backdoor cuts and wide-open corner threes. The Nuggets were also fond of corner threes, but they didn't use them to the same effect. The Thunder need to make sure to stay in front of a guy like Shawn Marion when he's on the corner, because if you slack too much on him defensively he'll hit a wide-open shot, and if you get too close to him he'll blow by you and get some easy points down low. There's no easy solution to this problem, other than continuing to lock down the paint and knowing where the open guys are on the perimeter.
If the Thunder are to win this series, they must improve defensively. This provides an interesting contrast with the last series, where the Thunder were inept offensively. The main difference between the Grizzlies and Mavericks is that the Mavericks make no real attempt to stop your superstars from scoring, while the Grizzlies have no problem double-teaming Durant all day.
The Thunder's best moments tonight, unfortunately, came when Dirk was out of the game or they were just plain outscoring the Mavericks. Defense was only a factor when the ball wasn't passed to Dirk, and the Mavericks only lost face when they were outright missing shots.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 40 Points, 8 Rebounds, 5 Assists,1 Steal, 2 Blocks
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka, 17 Points, 6 Rebounds, 1 Block, and not his defense on Dirk.
Thunder Blunder: Nate Robinson by a mile.
Thunder Plunderer: Dirk Nowitzki, 48 Points, 6 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 4 Blocks.
Next Game: Game 2 At the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, May 19th, 8 PM Central Standard Time.