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Tag:Russell Westbrook
Posted on: May 24, 2011 1:59 am
Edited on: May 24, 2011 5:59 am
 

NBA Playoffs: It's Dirk Nowitzki's Universe

Dirk Nowitzki owns everything as Mavs drop Thunder in comeback win in Game 4 of Western Conference Finals. 

Posted by Matt Moore



I swear, there was one shot where he wasn't even trying to hit it. He pump-faked, got Collison in the air for the zillionth time, and threw up a sideways shot. He was aiming, but it wasn't a shot you think about hitting, beyond pure instinct. The ball went up and forward. It went straight through the net. It was unbelievable. If it was anyone else, I would think it was luck. But I know better. At this point, we all know better, we all know Dirk.

It was only a shred of Dirk Nowitzki's incredible performance in Game 4 against the Thunder as the Mavericks kicked in the doors of the Thunderground Resistance who were celebrating victory up 15 with five minutes to go, and walked out with a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference finals. Nowitzki scored 12 of the Mavericks' 17-2 run in the fourth quarter, and took over in the way that they write about in books. It was the kind of performance you tell your kids about. That's cliche, right? But that's just how legendary it was. There was so much of a narrative in this game for Nowitzki, in fact, that mirrors his career arc.

In the first half, the Thunder could not miss, hitting their first nine shots. It looked every part a blowout. But Nowitzki balanced the Mavericks, provided the consistent, calming effect you need to weather a storm against a young emotional team like the Thunder. Nowitzki had 22 in the first half ... on just seven shots. The model of efficiency, and it helped the Mavericks cut a nine point deficit at the half to just four. In the third quarter, the Thunder defense stepped up on Nowitzki. Instead of going to work and committing to his shot, Nowitzki tried to get his teammates opportunities, constantly passing out of the double. He was trying to be the team player, not trying to force things. Honestly, his defensive and rebounding work was subpar Monday night, and the Thunder constantly grabbed offensive rebounds and found open dunks underneath. But, still, the Mavericks hung around.

Then with five minutes to go, down 15, Dirk went to work. It's the kind of thing you hope for your hero, your legend, to do if you're a fan. No "grab the ball at half court and try and cross him over." No, Nowitzki went to the post. When Collison denied, Nowitzki reposted. And when he got him to the elbow, there was no "NICK COLLISON: DIRK STOPPER" film playing at the Cineplex. It was just the German Shake And Bake show. 

Down 10 with 3:14 to go, it was a top of the key, pump-fake-drive-and-pull-up from the left elbow, forcing Collison to go full-speed then put on the brakes. How does a 7-foot lanky 32-year-old get to his pull-up so fast? At the 1:30 mark? Nowitzki went to the same move. Top of the key pump-fake-and-go, except when Collison anticipated it and jumped to the elbow, Nowitzki pivoted to the middle, then kicked back on a fadeaway. It's an impossible shot. It's an incredible shot. It should not have gone in any sane world. Swish.

You can say a player puts a team on his back, but with the Mavericks facing an insurmountable deficit, the Mavericks' franchise player was there. The man who has led them to so many wins, and yet been so often overlooked in his career, came up ... no, did not come up ... took over the game and put the Mavericks one home game away of winning the Western Conference.

It was supposed to be the Lakers' three-peat. It was supposed to be the rise of the young Thunder. Instead it's Nowitzki's universe. And we're all just watching Dirk work.
Posted on: May 23, 2011 7:41 pm
 

LiveChat: Thunder-Mavericks WCF Game 4

Join us at 9 p.m. EST for a livechat for the Thunder and Mavericks Game 4. Here's a brief list of things we bet won't come up at all. 

Fun starts at 9 p.m. EST.
 
Posted on: May 23, 2011 9:22 am
Edited on: May 23, 2011 11:42 am
 

Playoff Fix: Do the Thunder have the horses?

The Western Conference Finals have become about offense. Do the Thunder have enough to overcome the Mavs and even the series?

Posted by Matt Moore






One Big Thing: The Eastern Conference Finals are a slugfest. The Western Conference Finals are a trackmeet. In Game 3, the Thunder tried to get into a war of attrition with a team running circles on them. The result was either going to be Oklahoma City landing body blows which completely disable Dallas or OKC getting run over like the Mavericks were a stampede. Moo. The Thunder like to pride themselves on being a great defensive unit, only,  the thing is, they're not. They were 13th in defensive efficiency in the regular season, and have the worst defensive efficiency of the four Conference Finalists, just worse than Dallas. The Thunder can't actually stop anyone, which causes a much bigger problem against the best offense in the playoffs (Dallas) than it did against, say, Memphis. 

The Thunder were one-for-seven-hundred-thousand (that's just a guesstimate, it could have been more) behind the arc in Game 3 and couldn't get anything to fall. The reality is that were it not for the Thunder's uncanny ability to draw foul after foul with their relentless drives to the basket, Game 3 would have been much more out of hand than it was. The big thing for the Thunder has to be getting their offense on track. You can't bring a knife to a gunfight. The Thunder can't bring a bottle rocket to a heavy artillery battle. The offense has to come unplugged.


The X-Factor: Jose Juan Barea is just killing the Thunder in tiny ways. Barea's biggest contribution comes on his probe dribble, looping under the basket and testing the defense. It creates a collapsing effect by the Thunder defense which leaves shooters open on the perimeter. With the kind of perimeter passers the Mavs have, that means open looks for great shooters, and buckets on buckets. Even in the pick and roll, Barea is hurting Oklahoma City. In Game 3,the Mavs put James Harden on Barea to body him, but Barea is so fast he's able to get too much separation on the pick and roll. Throw in the fact Barea's jumper is falling consistently and you have a huge problem for the Thunder. They can survive Jason Terry, especially with Terry struggling in the series. Can't survive lil' Jub Jub Barea also having a huge series. 

The Adjustment: The Mavericks have managed to go through three games of this series without using the zone they've tested out in the past. The aggressive strength of the Dallas wing defenders has helped them get a leg up in the series. With the Mavericks looking for the knock-out punch in Game 4, now might be the time to use it for Rick Carlisle. If he can keep the Thunder out of the paint, forcing them to be a jump-shooting team, there's a better than 50-50 chance the Thunder won't be able to get the offense they need to even the series. It's a risk, but not a greater one than allowing James Harden and Russell Westbrook an unimpeded path to the rim and free throw line on every possession. The Thunder's confidence is shaken, now may be the time for a defensive tweak to put them on the ropes. 

The Sticking Point: For all the ways the Mavericks have run away with parts of this series, it's been close and the series is still just 2-1 with a chance for OKC to pull even Monday night. The Thunder have been right there down the stretch and just haven't been able to get the stops. That's key. Late comebacks are going to be diffifcult in this series due to the high octane offense on both sides and poor defense as mentioned above. Teams can hold the lead because the opponent can't get stops. Which means it's critical for the Thunder to come out and correct the problems with energy and execution in the first quarter of Game 3. The Thunder have to get off to a hot start and develop their own lead, forcing the Mavericks to play from behind. Do that, and they can grind their way to a win at the free throw line. Get discombobulated again and OKC is going to be staring up from a pretty deep hole going back to Dallas for a possible close-out game for the Mavericks.
Posted on: May 22, 2011 7:09 pm
Edited on: May 22, 2011 7:10 pm
 

NBA rescinds Chandler technical after Harden flop

The NBA has rescinded a technical foul on Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler after Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden flopped. Posted by Ben Golliver.

On Saturday night, Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden took a serious dive during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, pretending to be elbowed in the face by Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler. On Sunday, ESPNDallas.com reported that the NBA league office stepped in to rescind the technical foul whistled on Chandler during the altercation, ruling that the play was "incidental and not unsportsmanlike."

With Dallas leading 64-44 in the third quarter and the Thunder desperate to get back in the game, Harden drove hard to the hoop and made a running layup. As he turned to run back on defense, he initiated contact with Chandler, who had collected the ball and was moving towards the baseline to inbound it. Chandler raised his arms while moving forward and, as he did so, Harden simulated taking an elbow to the face, collapsing to the court and writhing in pain in embarrassing fashion.

On Sunday, Chandler had the following to say to ESPNDallas.com: "It was not a vicious elbow. I did not throw an elbow. I was trying to take the ball out of bounds. He tried to initiate contact and did a good job of flopping."
Here's video of the altercation and Harden's flop.




Chandler also had a technical foul rescinded after Game 1 of the Western Conference finals after he mixed it up with Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.
Posted on: May 22, 2011 5:45 pm
Edited on: May 22, 2011 7:08 pm
 

Thunder vet: Westbrook thinks he's better than KD

Posted by Royce Young



Did you think maybe we were finally done talking about Russell Westbrook? You'd be wrong.

Westbrook responded well to his so-called "benching" in Game 3, putting up 30 points for Oklahoma City that included eight straight points in the fourth quarter to get the Thunder back in the game. In the end, they lost to the Mavericks, but Westbrook bounced back strong.

Controvsery over? Hardly. Via the New York Daily News, one Thunder veteran says that Westbrook has an ego and that's what's interfered:
What undoubtedly fueled Westbrook's fiery response is a sense of entitlement. As one Thunder veteran said, privately, "He thinks he's better than Kevin Durant."

Not only that, but Westbrook has the backing of Thunder GM Sam Presti, who made a name for himself with his drafting of Westbrook with the fourth pick in 2008. Presti's micromanagement behind the scenes has caused some friction between the head of the front office and his coaches, but Brooks didn't pay any attention to that when he saw that Maynor was his best option to even the series.

Who is this mystery vet? Kevin Ollie? Desmond Mason? Robert Swift? Who knows. And who knows why he felt the need to pass along this information either.

But just that line alone -- Westbrook thinks he's better than Durant -- is going to stir the pot. But when you're an All-Star, a second-team All-NBA player that's as confident in yourself as Westbrook, would you really not think you're better than Durant. Not us in the general public here. We all know Durant is better. In terms of Westbrook, is it really so bad to think that? In fact, isn't it probably a good thing?

Everyone is biased about themselves. Other than maybe your mother, your biggest fan is normally you. Westbrook isn't any different. But that line reeks of ego and arrogance, therefore stirring the Westbrook vs. Durant pot a bit more.

And Westbrook has always played with a chip on his shoulder and an absurd amount of emotion. That's who he is and how he's always been. Westbrook probably thinks he's better than not just Durant, but Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and pretty much every player you toss out there. That's how great players think. They believe in themselves to the greatest degree. Kobe thinks he's better than Michael Jordan, even if we all know that it isn't true.

But here's a fun stat: Did you know entering Game 3 Saturday, Westbrook had assisted on 54 of Durant's field goals this postseason? Why is that number significant? Because it leads the NBA not just by a little, but doubles the next closest tandem (27 for Rajon Rondo to Paul Pierce and Jason Kidd to Dirk Nowitzki). It's not like Westbrook keeps the ball away from Durant here people. Durant has led the league in scoring the last two years and leads the playoffs this year with Westbrook as his point guard.

I'm reminded of the playoffs last year where the Thunder pushed the Lakers to six games. Multiple times in that series Westbrook had a wide open dunk of his own on a fast break but decided instead to drop off a pass to Durant trailing behind him. Westbrook put it simply when he was asked about why he did it. He said, "It's my job to get guys going and KD needed to get going." Doesn't sound like a guy too wrapped up in himself, does it?
Posted on: May 22, 2011 4:17 pm
 

Carlisle questions 'legal limits' of D on Dirk

Posted by Royce Young

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Look at the box score from Saturday's Thunder-Mavericks Game 3 in Oklahoma City. Notice anything funny? No, not that the Thunder shot just 1-17 from 3. No, not that Dirk Nowitzki had as many turnovers as made baskets (seven).

What's striking is that Dirk only took one -- count it, one -- free throw. And it came via a technical foul no less. This after he took 34 in the first two games, including a historic 24-24 from the stripe in Game 1.

There's no doubt that Nick Collison's defense on Dirk has been almost inspiring. Collison has earned a reputation in the postseason for being one of the best defensive big men stoppers in the game with the way he covered Zach Randolph and now how he's made life tough on Dirk. But one of the strategies Collison employs is being physical with Dirk, both on and off the ball.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was impressed with Collison's defense saying he's one of the "best post defenders in basketball," but added a caveat to it.

"Now, I don't know in terms of legal limits. I believe the line may have been crossed at times, and if so, I mean, the league will see that."

In other words, "He's fouling my guy! But I'm also trying to choose my words carefully as to not get a fine."

Dirk didn't really complain about it though.

"I obviously didn't get a lot of whistles going to the basket," Nowitzki said. "So I had to go with the one or two dribbles and up."

On the floor though, Dirk did his fair share though. After a hard drive to the basket where he obviously thought there was contact, Dirk turned to official Bob Delaney and informed him that the legal limits were indeed crossed on that particular play.

It's always kind of funny how things change with different officiating crews. In Game 1, Joey Crawford and his group saw almost everything as a foul. It was called fairly on both ends as both teams got the benefit of a touchy whistle. Game 2, a bit more was allowed. Game 3, Dirk got roughed up a bit. Collison for the most part played within the legal limits I'd say, doing a good job of using his body and not his hands to defend Dirk. Twice Collison anticipated Dirk putting the ball on the floor and forced a jump ball. No foul, no line-crossing there. Just great defense.

At the same time, you typically see stars such as Dirk get calls in most of those situations though. I think it's a credit to Game 3's crew for not feeling an obligation to just reward Dirk because he's Dirk.

The fact Dirk went just 7-21 from the floor and turned it over seven times has a lot less to do with the officiating and lot more to do with Collison. But within that, Collison was enabled by being allowed to push some boundaries. Carlisle may be right. The Thunder's approach may have crossed a line. But it's pretty simple: If they don't call it, then it wasn't a foul.
Posted on: May 22, 2011 1:58 am
Edited on: May 22, 2011 2:19 am
 

NBA Playoffs Thunder-Mavericks: Matrix Reloaded

Shawn Marion was the difference for Dallas in Game 3 in Oklahoma City. 

Posted by Matt Moore



A surprising number of people entering the Western Conference Finals completely overlooked Shawn Marion. Despite Marion being a seasoned veteran who has still contributed at both ends for the Mavericks this season, he was written off as being a non-factor, despite being in great condition at 33 years old. When the topic of Kevin Durant was discussed, the assessment was that Maron was an afterthought to be sacrificed to the Durantula God. 

Instead, in Game 3 amongst the rabid throng in Oklahoma City, it was Marion who made the biggest difference on both ends of the floor. Marion shadowed Durant aggressively off-ball, limiting his ability to find open opportunities. While Durant did his damage on drives, mostly at the free throw line, Durant was just 7-22 from the field, thanks largely to Marion who kept up with Durant on his cuts and didn't lose him as often. The result was fewer minutes for Peja Stojakovic and DeShawn Stevenson, which meant less offense. Or, at least that's normally what it means. But Marion justified Carlisle's decision by also showing up on the offensive end.

Marion was 9-13 from the field for 18 shots, and added 4 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. His offense wasn't just dump-off passes from Kidd or cutters from a double off Dirk, either. Marion flashed the kind of offensive production he showed so consistently and brilliantly in Phoenix during the Seven Seconds or Less era in Phoenix. Marion hit a floater in the lane to punish the Thunder's adjustment to aggressively defend the perimeter. Marion's work was all done on the inside. In Game 2, the Thunder lived with the Mavericks working the pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler due to their ability to guard size with size. But Marion worked much more effectively, getting dunks with his remaining explosiveness.

The first two games of this series were defined entirely by offense. Game 3 was decided when the Mavericks decided to commit to defense. For the first time in the series, a team was held to a below-100 offensive efficiency as OKC struggled from the field. Offense drove the Mavericks to outshoot the Lakers. After the first two games in the Western Conference Finals, Rick Carlisle has made the first significant adjustment, refocusing his rotations to defense. Marion rewarded that strategy by not only making the difference on the Thunder's best weapon, but by adding offense. The result? Dallas regains homecourt advantage and quiets that rabid crowd. 

Posted on: May 22, 2011 1:27 am
Edited on: May 22, 2011 1:47 am
 

Thunder go Bricktown in Game 3 loss to Mavericks

The Oklahoma City Thunder lost Game 3 to the Dallas Mavericks and now trail in the Western Conference finals 2-1. Posted by Ben Golliver.

Downtown Oklahoma City is known as "Bricktown," but this isn't what they meant.

On Saturday night, the Thunder dropped Game 3 at home to the Dallas Mavericks, 93-87, thanks in part to some historically horrific outside shooting. 

As a team, OKC shot just 1-for-17 from deep... good for a paltry 6%. The Thunder set a new season-low for three-point percentage, eclipsing their previous mark of 9% (2-22) in a Jan. 17 loss to the Lakers. They also tied a season-low for made three-pointers, as they shot 1-7 from deep against the San Antonio Spurs in a Jan. 1 loss. 

A search of Basketball-Reference.com reveals only one worse shooting performance in which the Thunder franchise made at least one attempt in the last 25 years: A 1-18 night in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks in 2003.

To help visualize how bad things got, here's a chart with OKC's three-point shooting percentage by game during the 2010-2011 campaign. Game 3 is on the far right, in a chasm all by itself.

okc-thunder-3s

The main culprit was All-Star forward Kevin Durant, who shot 0-8 from deep, a number only trumped this season by an 0-10 outing in a Nov. 3, 2010, loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Defended for much of the night by Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, Durant looked dejected, frustrated and rushed at various points, and he was clearly pressing in his attempt to pull the Thunder back into the game after they dug themselves a 23-point first half deficit. 

Game 3, obviously, was the Thunder's biggest game of the season, a chance to go up 2-1, to maintain homecourt advantage and to provide the first true mental test that the Mavericks have faced so far in the postseason. That they were betrayed by their three-point shooting is surprising, but not overwhelmingly so. On the season, the Thunder were 19th in the league at 34.7% from deep and that number had dropped to 33.8% in the playoffs prior to Saturday night. Durant has seen a similar drop in his outside shooting: from 35% in the regular season to 33% in the playoffs.

On Saturday, the Thunder missed from deep in every conceivable way. In addition to Durant forcing the issue, Russell Westbrook got a little too giddy late in the game, badly overshooting an attempt that would have brought the Thunder back within three points with just less than three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. That was immediately followed by a Daequan Cook three that nearly airballed. 

No doubt some of the Thunder's struggles can be attributed to jitters on the big stage. The Mavericks also deserve some credit. After allowing the Thunder to score 100+ in both Games 1 and 2, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle spent all of Friday and Saturday morning talking about the need for Dallas' defense to show up big. On Saturday night, he got exactly what he was looking for. 

"We played championship level defense for the first time in the series," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Now the challenge is to sustain it."

It's very unlikely that the Mavericks can sustain the 1-17 three-point shooting result by the Thunder, but maintaining that level of intensity is definitely possible. In shutting down the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers earlier in the playoffs, Dallas' defensive rotations were steady and its communication on that side of the ball was excellent. As a result, the Mavericks forced their opponents to shoot a lot of contested, deep shots and created turnovers at a solid clip.

The Mavericks got back to that formula in Game 3. Their rewards: regaining homecourt advantage and sending the Thunder to do some serious soul-searching.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com