The Oklahoma City Thunder announced their return to the playoff picture by embarrassing the Dallas Mavericks in game 1 of the opening playoff round, 108-70. The Thunder defense, inconsistent and much maligned over the course of the season, set a high water mark for how to shut down a team by holding the Mavs to 29.8% shooting in the game, with Dallas breaking the 20 point barrier in a quarter only once. It is the Thunder's first playoff win since Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals vs the San Antonio Spurs. OKC takes a 1-0 lead in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Thunder executed a solid defensive strategy by allowing Dirk Nowitzki most of the shots he likes to take, but eliminated spacing for just about everyone else, and the Mavs, shorthanded due to the injuries of Chandler Parsons, David Lee, and J.J. Barea, had nobody else who was able to step up. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook led a balanced attack from the Thunder and the Mavs could not answer OKC's aggressiveness or athleticism. Westbrook finished with 24 points and 11 assists, while Kevin Durant finished with 23-5-5 in only 27 minutes of action. OKC's mobile big men Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter had wonderful game 1's, with Ibaka finishing with 17-9 (including 3-3 from 3-point range) and Kanter with 16-13 in only 23 minutes of action.
While it is important to note that the Mavs struggled mightily to score from anywhere on the night, the blowout underscores how easily the game can slip away from them if their secondary players aren't making shots. OKC is going to grab the majority of rebounds (56-33) and if they keep turnovers low, will not allow many fast break opportunities. Expect game 2 to have a different flavor, but if OKC can again rely on their defense to take away every non-Dirk option, a 2-0 lead heading to Dallas is a strong possibility.
Notes for next time:
- Game. Sleeves.
- It is kind of amazing what the Thunder defense can do when their guards commit to staying with their man, fighting through screens, and generally not being lazy.
- Russell Westbrook played hist typical type of 1st half, filling up the box score as well as recording 5 turnovers. He finished the game with that same number of TO's, which went a long way towards not giving Dallas any hope.
- It's not a problem necessarily, but something to keep an eye on. The Mavs' backup PG Raymond Felton has no fear of Randy Foye on the drive. He pressed up on Foye constantly. While it didn't result in a lot of turnovers, it really slowed down OKC's 2nd unit offense. Not such a great problem in a game where the Thunder won by 38, but in a close game, it could hurt OKC's ability to hold off a Dallas run by their 2nd unit.
- Dion Waiters, improbably, can seem to turn the corner on just about anyone (including Kawhi Leonard(!). The problem that persists is that he has no plan in place once he breaks into the open. This will be a great series for him to try and build some chemistry with his teammates to set them up for open looks.
Game 2 scheduled for Monday at 7PM CDT in OKC.