Time: 8:00 PM Central Daylight Time
Place: The American Airlines Arena, Dallas, Texas
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), ESPN 103.3 KESN-FM
And here it is. The Thunder have once again found themselves in a win-or-go-home situation, but this one came much earlier than expected. The Dallas Mavericks have, by virtue of a late fourth quarter rally and overtime dominance, pushed the Thunder to the brink. There's no turning back now, for if the Thunder cannot win tonight, then they will have to resign themselves to a summer of what ifs and Ozarka water.
But the Ozarka can wait. There's still a very distinct possibility that the Thunder can win this game. And issue #1 is avoiding the offensive collapse. Just because James Harden fouled out doesn't mean that Durant and Westbrook should be totally clueless on how to run the offense. I understand that Harden has great court vision and really gets things going when Durant and Westbrook can't, but they should know how to look for other options. The collapse we witnessed was much worse than the one that occurred during Game 3 of the Semi-Finals, where the Thunder totally forgot how to play offense and just gave the ball to Durant or Westbrook every time. Heck, I'd have Sefolosha or Perkins take a solid shot over just letting Durant and Westbrook run amok in the final minutes.
Below: Stopping Dirk, Stopping the X-Factor, Prediction!
There's also the small issue of Dirk Nowitzki. Scott Brooks has seen it fit to not double-team him unless he goes into the post, basically relying on him having a bad shooting night. He's eliminated Mohammed from the rotation and kept either Collison, Ibaka, or Perk on Dirk. Collison seems to do the best job, while Perk is hardly a defender when he's away from the basket, and Ibaka is prone to fouling. But still, the Thunder have not found a consistently effective way of limiting his offense, mostly resorting to forcing the Mavs to turn the ball over and trying to limit their other options. I doubt there will be a serious change in strategy on this front, but one might be necessary if we are to somehow win this series.
Lastly, I think the Thunder should make sure to shut down the Mavs' X-Factor tonight. Every single game, the Mavs have had a player that really seals the game for them, whether it be JJ Barea, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, or Shawn Marion. Once the Mavericks start going to that player consistently, they need to identify him and make sure he doesn't get any more open looks. I know I've harped on this issue already, but it's something that still needs to be dealt with.
Should the series end tonight, I'd just like to say that I've had an excellent time covering these playoffs for you, and that this season has exceeded all expectations. I look forward to many more. But as an analyst and as a fan, I think the Thunder can and should win this game. This series has been too close to end on such a quick note.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 99, Dallas 95