NBA Playoffs 2012: How OKC Thunder Can Build on Game 1 Triumph
Now that the entire world has had nearly two days to process what happened in Oklahoma City's thrilling victory over the Dallas Mavericks, it's time to look ahead to tonight's Game 2 matchup.
OK, maybe let's take 10 more seconds to reflect on Kevin Durant's game-winning shot.
Over both Shawn Marion and Ian Mahinmi's outstretched arms. What a shot.
But let's be honest—when the ball hit the rim, how many people actually thought that was going to go in? That was a great bounce on a really difficult shot.
So, Thunder fans, rejoice while you can, because had that shot not received that lucky bounce, this would be an entirely different series. However, there's no use in speculating "what ifs." All we can do is move forward with what has transpired.
With that being said, there are still a few things the Thunder need to build on before heading into tonight's matchup. That game-winning shot feels good right now, but it's not going to matter if Dallas fixes their mistakes before the Thunder do and go on to win the series.
But let's start with the positives from Game 1, and aside from Durant's game-winner, his name isn't on this list.
Russell Westbrook, the most scrutinized player in the league not named LeBron James, came out strong, hitting on his first four shots and igniting the Thunder's offense. He finished the game 13-of-23 (57 percent), totaling 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Statistically, Westbrook was the star of the game, but what needs to be recognized about his game can't be found on the box score. Westbrook absolutely shut down Mavericks shooting guard Jason Terry in the fourth quarter.
Terry, who finished with 20 points on a stellar 8-of-10 from the field, was only able to put up one shot in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a miss.
Luckily for the Mavs, the fourth quarter was when Dirk Nowitzki started hitting shots—albeit only three, but he was noticeably getting into a rhythm and getting to the line.
Another positive to take away from Friday night's victory was the play of Serge Ibaka. Ibaka, the NBA's leading shot-blocker, stayed solid on the defensive end, totaling five blocks and challenging countless shots.
However, Ibaka also exploded for 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, which was much needed due to Durant's poor night from the field (10-of-27).
Ibaka was hitting jumpers, including a huge three at the end of the first half that cut the Mavericks' lead to only three points, but he was also putting himself into great positions for entry passes and easy dunks.
Can the Thunder expect 22 points a game from Ibaka? While it's possible, it's not likely, and that leads me to the first thing the Thunder need to build on: shot selection. I'm talking to you, Mr. Durant.
It's easy to point fingers at Westbrook for taking transition jumpers or three-pointers when the shots aren't falling, but more often than not, Westbrook shoots at a pretty high percentage (46 percent on the year).
However, when Durant is taking contested fallaway jumpers and not even getting close, there are usually no arguments. Every shot Durant takes is a "good shot."
I'm just going to say it: that's a lie.
I love Durant's ability to create his own shot, and I'm aware that most defenders don't have a chance to contest his jump shot due to his length, but some of the shots he took in the win just weren't good looks. I can't entirely blame Durant, though, as he is seemingly forced into contested jumpers due to the Thunder's isolation-style of offense.
Now is not the time to harp on a lack of ball movement, though. The Thunder have been running isolation offense all season, and that's seemingly worked out just fine—even though this completely defies everything I've ever been taught.
Durant isn't going to have many 10-of-27 shooting nights. He shoots 50 percent from the field, for crying out loud. However, the Mavericks are going to continue to force Durant into tough shots. Marion has been great at defending Durant all year (and during last season's Western Conference Finals). It's up to Durant to find good shots.
Somebody who did have a nice shooting night was potential Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden. Harden came off the bench to score 19 points on 4-of-7 shooting and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. However, Harden was the only Thunder bench player to score, which is something the Thunder need to drastically improve for tonight's matchup.
The Mavericks got 39 points out of Terry, Vince Carter and Ian Mahinmi, while Derek Fisher, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook went scoreless while playing a collective 41 minutes. To be fair, Fisher only took three shots, Cook only took two and Collison didn't manage to put up a single shot.
Still, this needs to be fixed. Fisher hasn't exactly been the shooter he once was this season, and while I respect his playoff and big-game experience, if he's not hitting shots, he shouldn't be taking up 16 minutes during Game 2.
Collison made many hustle plays, but that's expected. Collison is too skilled offensively to not put up any shots.
Finally, the Thunder need to work on controlling the glass, which is something that has been a nuisance all season, especially against teams with a taller frontcourt.
The Thunder were only a minus-six on the glass (42 to 36), but Dallas was able to pull in 10 offensive boards, many of which were converted to second-chance points.
Perkins and Ibaka certainly give up some height to Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood, but they have to be a little better in their block outs. Westbrook needs to adhere this advice, as well, as Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd pulled in six rebounds.
Moral of the story remains simple: The Thunder are up 1-0 in this series with a chance to take a commanding lead with another home victory.
I've said it all season long—the Thunder will be unlucky to draw the defending champions in the first round. The Mavericks have been less than stellar this season, but something about their veteran savvy team gets the best of the Thunder more times than not.
The Thunder need to take all their positives from Game 1 and really build on them in Game 2, because Rick Carlisle will have his troops primed and ready to take a split before heading back to Dallas.
One thing is for sure, this is going to be an exciting series.
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