Initially I was going to write an article on how good Derrick Rose actually is in historical context. I’m not going to anymore. Last night was too much.
Some of you likely had déjà vu from when Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady had 53 and 48 points respectively. I sort of did along with you. In any case, I watched every minute of last night’s game, and I feel compelled to answer a few questions that came to me about Dirk and Durant’s respective performances.
Because the Mavericks won, I’m going to start with some Dirk questions, leaving Durant how he finished after Game 1. Last.
Question 1: What was the most impressive part of Dirk’s performance?
Nowitzki set a record for most free throw shots made consecutively in a playoff game – with no misses mind you – at 24. This performance beats 2010 3-point contest winner Paul Pierce’s 22, who himself is a great shooter. This alone is a testament to Dirk’s discipline and fundamental soundness. He shot a ridiculous 80% from the field, 50%over the past 10 games, and has transformed his fade-away into one of the most feared offensive weapons in the NBA. For the record, if Dirk improves his shooting
percentage by even .05% a game, he’ll vault ahead of Worthy, Maxwell, and Dawkins for 7th in NBA playoff history. He scored 48 points in 41 minutes, to go with 6 assists, and we all saw him defer to J.J. Barea when necessary. He led when it mattered.
In my opinion these gaudy stats do tell a story, but I think Dirk’s 4 blocks, 6 boards and no 3-pointers attempted are also impressive. Dirk played a great defensive game by using his length to block shots and clog the lane. This was especially important once Shawn Marion fouled out and when the Thunder made its late-game run. For once – in a long time – Wilbon and Magic commended Dirk’s toughness on both sides of the ball. Most impressively, he did all that while pulling off the aforementioned offensive accomplishments. Aside from the defense, Dirk did not take any shots from outside; normally when I hear about Dirk scoring 48, I, like Wilbon, assume that Dirk heated up from beyond the arc. Not the case. He did all his work in and around the paint, torching every single defender the Thunder supplied.
After Dirk hit yet another patent pending off-balance, one-legged, fade-back 18 footer, Van Gundy declared that Dirk has elevated himself into the top 10 or 15 players – which he immediately retracted – but it speaks to a larger point. Has Dirk added to his legacy in any way after this game? It’s the next question I aim to answer.
Question 2: Does this performance elevate Dirk’s status amongst players in the NBA?
I want to start by saying that Van Gundy is flat wrong. Last night’s game does not elevate Dirk into the top 10 players ever, top 15 neither. But I do think that this is the single greatest performance in Dirk’s career, notwithstanding 53 against McGrady. I know, I’m aware of Dirk’s line on Dec 2, 2004 where he put up a staggering: 53 points (15-32 FGs, 2-5 3FGs, 21-22 FTs) to go along with 16 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks in 49 minutes.
Here’s my point: Dirk took 32 shots to get to 53 points in 2004. Last night, Dirk took FIFTEEN SHOTS. Fifteen. I’m sorry, that’s absolutely ridiculous; I understand he didn’t have the same rebounding performance, but his efficiency is historic. He literally
embarrassed every single defender that the Thunder tried to use; if they do not try and trap or double-team they’re certifiably insane. Now add that this took place in the playoffs, a place where Dirk has been much maligned, and it becomes clear to me that this game was his best. Wilbon and Magic called it Bird-esque.
What he has done – in addition to playing the best game of his career – is cement his position as the best shooting big-man in the history of the NBA. The man averaged 50-40-90 percentages for 2006, putting him in the same league as Miller, Bird, and Nash. There are no other legitimate seven-footers who come close. Now the most obvious counter-argument is that he was the greatest shooting big man ever, but he’s not anymore. For all those misguided folks who say he’s lost it, consider this season: 52-39-89, that’s just a shade away from where he was five years ago. I also demand that people who make that argument re-watch last night’s game, just to refresh what Dirk is capable of doing shooting the basketball. I almost want to say that his mid-range game is better than Carmelo Anthony’s, but I need to develop that argument more.
Question 3: Are we forgetting about Kevin Durant’s performance?
Probably. But when the opponent in your duel sets an NBA record and beats you, 40 points (10-18, 18-19 FT), 8, 5 and 2 blocks is just not good enough. Unquestionably Durant’s performance was remarkable, his efficiency was not close to Dirk’s, but impressive nonetheless. He, too shot a ton of free throws and did his level best to keep the Thunder in the game. But it was too little. Suffice it to say that if Dirk had an average night, all of us would be telling the opposite story: the Mavericks need to figure out just what to do with Durant. So now I want to change the subject away from Dirk and Durant to these opposing stories – what to do with Dirk and Durant?
Question 4: Where is this series headed?
I’m sticking with SemihErden’s position of Mavericks in 6. I want to begin, though, by saying that OKC fans ought not complain about Dirk’s 24 FT attempts when Westbrook and Durant took 18 each. Each. That said, I imagine the refs are going to take it a bit easier on the whistle in the upcoming games. Although Adelman said the game will be won and lost on the FT line, I hope it’s on account of what I like to call “aggressive FTs” – those earned by driving to the hoop rather than shot in the bonus.
I think Oklahoma City needs to get the ball out of Dirk’s hands at all costs. Late in the game, the Mavs were up by 10 when the Thunder quasi-trapped him, he fumbled the ball, and it led to a fast break where Westbrook almost executed a 3pt. play. The game was almost manageable and even Mark Jackson said that it’s key to get the ball out of Dirk’s hands. Either that or, as PakaStallion has suggested, get Durant to check him; anything beats Dirk flatly embarrassing Sefalosha and Ibaka time and again.
More generally though, OKC’s bench – as SemihErden suggested – is too short in comparison to Dallas’. Harden is great, but after that it gets a little rough. I’m not going to rehearse arguments that already have been made, but some things are coming into sharper focus after Game 1.
Congratulations to Dirk Nowitzki on his stellar performance. It’s about time he gets some recognition. If he wins a championship this year, there won’t be any doubt.
 I’m channeling Big Boi here: “If you ain’t first, you last.”
 In alphabetical order: Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Bryant, Chamberlain, Duncan, Jordan, M. Malone, Magic, Olajuwon, O’Neal, Robertson, Russell, Stockton, and that’s just the top of my head. I can think of several more automatics, but I’ll let you pick.
 http://www.nba.com/playerfile/dirk_nowitzki/bio.html. Do a Ctrl+F.
 Id. at 3
 Undoubtedly, and by Adelman’s own admission, the Mavs lived in the bonus during Game 1.