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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Know what's better than riveting Game 1? Upcoming Game 2

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DALLAS -- At the time, I was kidding. Or exaggerating. At the time, it was the first quarter and Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki were already in double figures and I was tweeting that one of them might just score 50 before this series was done.

And then it almost happened. For both of them. In Game 1.

When it was over, Nowitzki had 48 points and Durant had 40 and the Dallas Mavericks had a 121-112 victory Tuesday night over the Thunder in the first game of the Western Conference finals, and I was thinking the same thing lots of you were thinking:

When's Game 2?

Not until Thursday. Dammit. That's cruel, but the anticipation will be delicious. Waiting for Game 2 -- waiting two days ... 48 hours ... 2,880 minutes -- will make the game that much better. Not that it could be better than what we saw Tuesday night.

Right?

Game 2 couldn't possibly top Game 1, not when Game 1 had two guys hit 40 points. Could it? This was special right here. I mean, it wasn't quite Bird vs. Dominique, because the stakes of their epic playoff duel in 1988 were higher. That was the night Larry Bird scored 20 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics held off Atlanta and Dominique Wilkins -- who had 15 of his 47 in the fourth quarter -- to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. So this wasn't Bird and Dominique. Don't go there.

On the other hand, because that was a Game 7, Bird and Dominique didn't get the chance for an encore.

Durant and Nowitzki do. And will. On Thursday.

Between now and then, both teams have a lot of work to do. The Thunder have to figure out what went wrong with Russell Westbrook, seeing how he was one of the best two or three point guards in the league this season -- yet was the fourth-best point guard for much of the game Tuesday. The best three played for Dallas, what with (1) Jose Juan Barea coming off the bench to score 21 points in just 16 minutes and (2) Jason Terry coming off the bench to score 24 points and (3) Jason Kidd directing all these weapons with 11 assists. Westbrook finished with 20 points, but it was an ugly 20. He was 3-for-15 from the floor and finished with just three assists along with four turnovers. He just wasn't very good. He'll get better Thursday. You have to believe that.

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Meantime, the Mavericks have to see about protecting Shawn Marion's nose, since it was broken midway through the second quarter after a brutal screen by Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. Marion was on the floor for several minutes, drawing Mavs coach Rick Carlisle to the court. When Carlisle saw what Perkins had done to Marion's face, he hooted at the officials until he was given a technical foul. Marion finally walked off, then shoved some cotton up his nose and came back to the court. He played the rest of the way with the broken nose, and the only time it showed was when officials had to stop the action for a few seconds so Marion could go to the bench to shove more cotton up his nose. Because it was dripping blood.

Marion finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes, and he spent many of those minutes on Kevin Durant. What I'm saying is, Marion helped "hold" Durant to 40. Had Marion given into the pain, Durant might have scored 50 the way he was playing. Carlisle knows it.

"It was a desperate situation, but we needed him out there," Carlisle said. "He got back out there as soon as he could. I thought that was the key to the game."

That was one key. Barea and Terry combining for 45 points off the bench was another. Barea deserves a key all by himself. He scored 12 straight Dallas points in the fourth quarter, a spree so devastating that OKC coach Scott Brooks tried to stop it with a timeout and fresh legs. After Barea scored five in a row against Eric Maynor, Brooks put in 5-foot-7 Nate Robinson. Didn't work. Barea scored seven more points on Robinson, and when his spree was over a 92-83 Mavs lead had become 104-89.

Those are fine keys, but let's be honest: This game was about Nowitzki and Durant and the pinball they were playing with the scoreboard. It wasn't selfish pinball, either. They did more than score. Durant had 40 points, yes, but he also led his team in rebounds (eight), assists (five) and steals (two). He took just 18 shots from the floor, scoring 40 in a way Kobe Bryant never could.

Nowitzki was even better, of course. In addition to his six rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots -- that's right; Dirk Nowitzki blocked four shots -- he scored 48 points on just 15 shots from the floor. He was 12 of 15 from the field, and 24 of 24 from the foul line. He tied a playoff record he'd already shared with Michael Jordan by hitting 13 straight foul shots in a quarter, and his 24 free throws were the most in a playoff game without a miss.

But I sense you're missing some math here, so let me spell it out for you. All told from the field and the line, Dirk Nowitzki shot the ball 39 times on Tuesday night. He made 36 of them. He sent Serge Ibaka to the bench with foul trouble. He sent Ibaka's replacement, Nick Collison, to the bench with foul trouble. When Durant slid over to guard him, Nowitzki drew two fouls in five seconds. Brooks moved Thabo Sefolosha onto Nowitzki. Two more fouls. Finally it was left to James Harden to try to stop Nowitzki. Harden is 6-feet-5. Nowitzki is 7 feet.

Please.

"It's frustrating," Durant said of the effect Nowitzki was having on the entire Thunder roster. "He's a good player -- he makes shots. Makes off-balance shots. [We] just have to keep a hand in his face, keep on our concepts, and go from there. And hope the next game is different."

But not too different, right?

Game 1 was something special. Let's see it again.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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