Kevin Durant once again struggled with his shooting and couldn’t get many to fall Saturday night, but he made the one that counted. Oklahoma City Thunder escaped a Game 1 upset against the Dallas Mavericks in the final seconds thanks to KD’s impossible game-winning jumper. Shawn Marion guarded Durant as well as he possibly could and contested the shot, but it took a friendly hometown bounce and gave the Thunder a much-needed Game 1 win.
The Dallas Mavericks actually looked like the two seed for much of the night. Despite Dirk Nowitzki not really coming alive until the fourth quarter, Dallas was in control for the majority of this back-and-forth game. Jason Kidd was getting his hands on loose balls and disrupting OKC’s offense with steals, finishing the night with seven. Jason Terry and Vince Carter looked pretty good, providing energy and points off the bench (33 points combined). Shawn Marion played great defense on Durant and held him to a 10-of-27 shooting night. But even with all of this, the Thunder wouldn’t be denied, overcoming a seven-point deficit with two and a half minutes to go, right after Nowitzki looked like he had finished OKC off with a big three-point play. Dallas maintained their composure, Ian Mahinmi and Dirk hit big free throws to put their team back up, but the Thunder struck back both times and somehow ended up with the win. Durant’s shot definitely brought back flashbacks of the game-winner he hit against the Mavs earlier in the season, but what can should we take away from this game going forward?
The Thunder should feel good about the win, but not too great about the series. They almost dropped a big Game 1 at home to the team that ousted them from the playoffs last year. Even though OKC is the two seed, giving a veteran team with so much playoff experience invites the notion that they aren’t ready or mature enough to do what needs to be done and move on to the next round. Kevin Durant’s shot saved that idea from creeping into their heads, but if Durant’s shooting woes continue, it won’t be long before Dallas starts stealing a game or two. The Thunder’s lack of experience in comparison to Dirk and the reigning champions puts them at a slight disadvantage, so if seventh-seeded Mavs already making it close on the road, what’s going to happen when the games swing back to Dallas?
Fortunately for the Thunder, Durant’s supporting cast stepped up big and were a huge reason OKC was even in the game at the end. Of course there is Russell Westbrook, who finished with 28 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds, but it was a collective team effort that kept Oklahoma City close. James Harden, in his first game back after his concussion, dropped 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and was also involved in a few huge defensive plays that turned the tide in his team’s favor. Serge Ibaka had a stellar game, dominating down low with 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocks. Even Kendrick Perkins, who was held scoreless on the night, pulled in 8 rebounds and made the invaluable contribution of guarding Dirk Nowitzki and trying to slow him down.
Going back to the series, this game sends a few mixed signals. On the one hand, Dallas should feel pretty good even though they lost. They competed better than most anticipated and it took an insanely difficult shot from Kevin Durant to win it. Then you remember that Dirk didn’t even come alive until the final quarter. Jason Terry and Vince Carter both looked good, Jason Kidd was a defensive stud creating turnovers, and their advantage of having so much experience and chemistry together definitely was on display as a big advantage over this young Thunder squad. But on the other hand, the Mavs would probably feel much better if they had been able to keep that seven-point lead. And it also should be somewhat disconcerting that they couldn’t pull off the road upset with Durant shooting so poorly. James Harden and Russell Westbrook should definitely be concerns in their ability to attack the basket and get to the free throw line, but Serge Ibaka’s huge performance is also a little worrisome going forward. If he continues to eat up the Mavericks on the inside, they could be in for a long series. So although it’s true that Dallas only needs to get one road win to have a chance to win the series, if Kevin Durant’s shooting picks up again, getting a W in Game 2 might be close to impossible.
Dallas has the experience and veteran mentality capable of still pulling off this upset. But that loss hurts a little bit, especially if they can’t get a much-needed win in Game 2. Because the Thunder’s talent, speed and the revenge factor of losing to the Mavs last year gives them a pretty big advantage, which is why I still stand by my prediction that OKC will win in five games. So even though Kevin Durant hasn’t been shooting well recently, the Thunder are still the favorites to win this series thanks to a great supporting cast. If the Mavericks don’t get a win in this upcoming critical road game, the Thunder might just roll right on to the second round.