NBA Playoffs 2011: Ibaka, Collison or Perkins—Who Will Guard Dirk Nowitzki?
Being 7' tall, Nowitzki is nearly impossible to guard with his array of moves. The smart German is great at using his body, and he picks apart his defenders in different ways.
So far, Nick Collison has guarded Nowitzki the majority of the series. As a matter of fact, the former Jayhawk has done a much better job on Nowitzki than many anticipated.
While Collison has received most of the duties on Nowitzki, Thunder players Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha bring their own skills to the table.
Let's go ahead and break down who should be guarding Dirk for the Thunder.
As mentioned, Collison has done the best job on Nowitzki so far.
Collison uses his basketball IQ, plus his size frame and surprisingly quick feet to somewhat contain Dirk. In Game 3, Collison did a great job of doing that and limited Dirk to only three free-throw attempts.
Unfortunately for Collison, the Dallas Mavericks sent in tapes of Game 3 to the NBA, meaning they would be much stricter on Collison's defense.
Then the weaker calls came in. After going to the line three times in Game 3, Dirk took 15 attempts in Game 4, with the majority of them coming in the fourth quarter.
The real controversial call came against Collison with just 6.4 seconds left in the game, basically letting the Mavs tie it up for no reason.
Collison will look for his vengeance in Game 5 in Dallas.
Serge Ibaka can't catch a break against Nowitzki. After smothering him in Game 1, Dirk was somehow able to drain nearly every shot with Ibaka all over him.
Even though Ibaka actually did a good job of guarding Dirk, the Thunder had to look other ways.
Ibaka was then placed into the backup role of guarding Dirk after Game 1.
Even though Ibaka has not been Nowitzki's primary defender, he should still see quality minutes guarding him. Ibaka has the quickness, length and athleticism it takes to disrupt a player like Dirk.
Expect Ibaka to see more minutes on Nowitzki in Game 5, where the Thunder's season will be on the line.
If this were the 1980s, the Thunder would certainly have Perkins on Dirk. Oklahoma City would simply send Perkins out there to mug and pound on Dirk all game.
Unfortunately for Perkins and the Thunder, this is 2011, and the NBA has never been softer.
Perkins' job is to stay down low and control the paint as best as possible. Because Dirk extends his game out to the three-point line, Perkins really can't keep up with him.
Perkins may play a few minutes on Dirk, but his real responsibility lies in keeping Tyson Chandler off the boards.
Expect to see maybe a few minutes of Perkins guarding Dirk in Game 5, depending on the Thunders' foul situation.
It really surprises me Scott Brooks has not let Thabo Sefolosha guard Dirk more often in these playoffs.
With his size and defensive abilities, one has to believe Sefolosha should be able to somewhat guard Dirk.
Listed at 6'7", Sefolosha is not giving up a ton of height. Even if Dirk tries to back him down, the Thunder would be able to help on low-post double teams.
With their backs against the wall, Brooks may have to make some desperate decisions in Game 5.
One of them should be putting Sefolosha on Dirk for at least a few minutes here and there. Down 3-1, it's time for Brooks to take a risk like this one.