Defense. That's the name of the game when it comes to basketball, and really any sport in general.
121 points is the most that the Thunder have allowed in a non-overtime game since January 13th, when they defeated the Orlando Magic by a score of 125-124. Despite having two of the best interior defenders in the NBA in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder still could not stop the Mavericks and their scorching offense, which is led by none other than Nowitzki.
In game one of this series, Nowitizki put up one of the best individual playoff performances of all time. He finished the game shooting 12-15 from the field and 24-24 from the free throw line to tally for an overly-impressive 48 points to go along with his six rebounds, four assists and four blocks on the night.
NBA fans have long known that Dirk Nowitizki is one of the most gifted offensive players in the NBA, but he has been playing at a level that we have never seen before.
"It doesn't really matter who's on me," said Nowitzki before tonight's Game 2 in Dallas. "This team usually relies on me to score, so really the last couple of years, I've been attacking no matter who's on me."
I would like to say that Nowitzki is being a little big arrogant with this quote, but who can really argue him? It really doesn't matter who covers him, as it's become apparent that no matter who attempts to defend him, he is going to get his.
Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum all couldn't stop him in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, causing the Lakers to be swept by the underdog Mavericks. Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha of the Thunder couldn't stop Dirk Nowitizki at all in game one, thus leading the Mavericks to a win.
Before this series began, I thought that Nowitzki would be slowed down offensively by Ibaka, who has both the length and lateral quickness to stick with Nowitzki. As we have figured out though, it truly doesn't matter how closely you defend Nowitzki because his famous off balance, fade-away jump-shots off of one foot consistently go in time and time again.
In a recent column by Jason Whitlock of FOX Sports, Whitlock wrote that the reason Dirk has never been given his full due is because Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has often stolen the spotlight from Nowitzki unintentionally, causing most fans to take Nowitizki's play for granted.
No longer is that the case though. Nowitzki is one of the best players in the history of the NBA, and now he's proving it on a consistent basis throughout the playoffs as the pressure on him and his team increases by the game.
The Thunder are a talented young team with plenty to look forward to in the future, and perhaps this is a bit pre-mature, but I just do not think that this is their year. This is seemingly the Mavericks year. This is Dirk Nowitzki's year.
Sometimes in sports, the stars just align and eventually the years and years of crushing playoff defeats, grueling off-season workouts and the year-round grind of being an NBA player pays off.
And it seems like Nowitzki is in a position to finally collect, perhaps in the form of his first NBA finals win.
For now though, lets all, as fans, just simply sit back and appreciate what we're watching in front of us, as Nowitzki is in the midst of one of the best individual postseason runs in recent memory and more than likely of all time.
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