Kevin Durant's offensive performance in Game 3 was a breath of fresh air. He was finally able to shed the shooting doldrums and erupt for 31 points off of only 11-15 shooting. As we noted earlier, the Mavericks were doing a tremendous job limiting any type of space for Durant to work. Shawn Marion was the point man, but every Mavs defender chipped in to keep Durant from finding open looks.
We put together a few shots that Durant attempted in Game 1, when the Mavs limited him to 10-27 shooting from the floor.
You can see that in this opening game, the Mavericks played aggressive defense against Durant at all times. Even on his 3-point attempts the Mavs were closing out aggressively, so Durant never had an opportunity to really set his feet. When Durant drove the ball to the rim, he was always met with several defenders and the initial man never gave up the effort. Lastly, even on the one shot he made in this sequence, you can see how hard Durant had to work just to find a little bit of space.
Compare Game 1 with these few shots from Game 3:
Right from the get-go you can see that the Mavs do not have the same energy in staying with Durant. Even Marion, who knows he has the ability to stay with Durant, is caught a step slow and can only provide token resistance when Durant elevates. By the time Durant takes Marion into the post, Durant has found his rhythm and hits a shot he had previously been missing when being guarded by Marion.
Time will tell whether Game 3 was a sign of simple lack of focus or if it was something more. We know that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was thinking that he might need some new strategies to slow down Russell Westbrook, and we may have evidence here that it came to the detriment of leaving Durant too open. In the alternative, we also know that the Mavs are a veteran bunch but a little long in the tooth and they now have been chasing the younger and more athletic Thunder for an extended period of time.
Which is it? Did the Mavs make a tactical defensive blunder in allowing themselves to be distracted from a tight watch on Durant, or are the Thunder finally wearing down the Dallas defense? The former can be adjusted. However if the Mavs defense cannot find the energy to stay with Durant, Game 4 may end up the same as Game 3.