NBA Playoffs 2011: Problems OKC Thunder Faced in Game 1 Against Dallas Mavericks

Denise CharlesContributor IIIMay 19, 2011

DALLAS, TX - MAY 17:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks looks to shoot over Serge Ibaka #9 and Nate Robinson #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 17, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After being up by nine points some time in the first half of the first game against the Dallas Mavericks, something went horribly wrong for the Oklahoma City Thunder.  There was an 18-point turnaround after that, and from there on out, it was bad news for the Thunder. 

What went wrong in Game 1 for the OKC Thunder?

A lot of the media and commentators have claimed that the Thunder’s players are “soft-spoken” and aren’t as “mentally tough.”   On the contrary—they made it this far, right? 

There is no way they would have made it past the Memphis Grizzlies and Z-Bo if they weren’t mentally tough or prepared.  However, after watching Game 1 of the series against the Mavericks, there are several things that might have damaged OKC.

For starters, the obvious: Nobody could stop PF Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. He had near perfect shooting for the night…in fact it’s easier to count the number of missed shots.  The number: THREE, from free throws to threes—he was on spot. 

Speaking of free throws, Nowitzki got fouled by ALL FIVE starters of the Thunder team.  He drew 16 fouls by the end of the night, helping his total score of 48 points—which was only a little shy of his career-playoff-best of 50 from the 2006 Western Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.  The Thunder were basically giving the Mavs free points.

Although Nowitzki and fouls weren’t the Thunder’s only problem, they definitely were a huge contributor to the Mavericks success.  A little more impressive, and an equal problem for the Thunder, was Mavericks Jose Barea.

Barea was only in the game for 16 minutes, but his field goal percentage was at .667. He had three rebounds and 21 points by the end of the game.  How did that happen?

For starters, no one thinks of guarding the short six-foot guy.  Regardless, he’s quick and sneaky and needed to be stopped…and no one was doing it.

Plain and simple: the defense needs to step their game up and block Dirk’s shots because he’s precise and will rack up points.  They also need to stop the swift Barea, he can’t go unseen or overlooked…no pun intended. The Thunder need to remember though: be aggressive, but not aggressive enough to get that many fouls!

Defense was certainly not the only problem, just the main one…offensively, Kevin Durant showed everyone why he was the second draft pick, why he was Rookie of the Year and why he’s been the leader of this Oklahoma team.   However, there lies a problem on the Thunder’s offense (one that’s so scary to watch): Russell Westbrook. 

Westbrook is beyond talented and can do some serious work on the court.  However, after that first game against the Mavs, his stats read a little something like this: 38 minutes, shooting 3-for-15, .200 field goal percentage, three rebounds and assists each and 20 points.  He played twice the amount of Dallas’ Barea and really had nothing to show for it. 

Yes, his position is to help get the ball down the court and set-up the play, but he’s far more talented than that and has shown it in games against Memphis.  Have we forgotten that triple-double he had in Game 7 against Memphis?!

He needs to slow down and either focus on the shots he is attempting or slow down and pass the ball to someone who is open…numbers like the ones he had after that series opener against Dallas is nerve-wracking and can hurt the team.

Regardless, there is still hope for the Thunder.  Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was no where near happy after winning Game 1. 

According to Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas, “[Carlisle’s] perturbed that the Mavs gave up 112 points, the first time an opponent has hit triple-digits against Dallas this postseason.”

In fact, that’s the biggest sign of threat to the Mavs, that the Thunder were in it to win it and aren’t going home without a fight…even if it means they have to go into triple-overtime, again.

Age and rest is a tiring topic…it gets brought up time and time again.  We have to face the facts though—basketball is a physical sport and those that have had less tear and wear will surpass others.  And, the Mavs were on nine days of rest, rusty or not…they are now back in the game and are going to have to keep up with the Thunder’s young squad. 

The fourth quarter of game 1 is a prime example: the Mavs continued to term themselves as rusty…point is, they got tired and Durant, the young all-star, took over.

The loss to the Mavs in Game one, honestly, means nothing…lest we forget: it takes FOUR WINS to win the series, not one.   If anything, Game 1 was a huge learning experience for the Thunder…they now know who to focus on defensively—without drawing a foul. 

More importantly, they must realize that it’s going to take a team effort to win this series: that being said, Westbrook, needs to pass the ball sometimes.

Denise is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in broadcast journalism and sports journalism.  She’s been writing for B/R since September of 2010 and is currently interning at Fox 7 Sports in Austin and Victory Sports Network.  Follow Denise on Twitter