(Note: With a highly entertaining Western Conference finals between Dallas and Oklahoma City now in full swing, we asked Clippers forward Ryan Gomes, a six-year vet who has matched up with both Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant, to break down the action. He looks at Thursday's win in Game 2 for Oklahoma City and ahead to Game 3.)
Through two games, this has been a really entertaining series. The quality of seeing these guys perfect their craft has been great.
After Dirk Nowitzki's incredible Game 1, the Thunder did a nice job with their adjustments in Game 2, giving Dirk different looks compared to what they did the other night. In Game 1 he was fouled a lot, but on the shots where he wasn't, Dirk had his areas down. He was catching, jabbing and shooting over guys. He was comfortable. In Game 2, the Thunder ran a few double-teams at him and made him get rid of the ball. Dirk finished with five assists, but in the third quarter the Thunder were forcing turnovers because he and his teammates couldn't time when that double-team was coming.
Oklahoma City did a nice job putting it in Dirk's mind that help could be coming at any point, and from different places. As a player, that makes you just a little less sure in your moves. Then as they built the lead, they didn't really want or need to double anymore. The Thunder could play Dirk as straight and solid as possible, keeping other defenders on their shooters, knowing if he scored the Mavs still needed two or three more possessions in order to tie.
Dirk still had a great game, with 29 points on only 17 shots from the floor, but over the course of the night Oklahoma City did a nice job changing his rhythm.
Offensively, I thought Oklahoma City did a good job against Dallas' zone, putting Durant on the wing but moving him around to the middle of the free throw line area. The Thunder tried to get him isolated right there against the guards at the top, so he could take those little mid-range shots or draw attention and kick to the opposite side of the floor. One time, he shot a pull up and missed it, but the Thunder earned the offensive rebound and were able to capitalize with a nice lefty putback from Nick Collison. That's the thing about a zone -- if you don't get that first defensive rebound, the opportunities for the offense to go in there and find holes are big.
That's what the Thunder will need to keep doing in Game 3. Keep finding ways to get Durant to the middle, and have him make plays.
But even though Dirk and Durant were both good, the big key Thursday was with the other guys on the court.
J.J. Barea scored a little bit in the fourth quarter, but Jason Terry didn't have the game he had the other night. Meanwhile, for the Thunder, James Harden was great. Terry and Harden are equal players as far as what they bring to their respective teams and how much each needs his scoring in order to have the upper hand. In Game 2, Harden's playmaking ability with the ball, scoring and putting pressure on the Mavericks were the main factors in how Oklahoma City won.
I think Harden is the key guy in this series now and who the Mavs will focus on at this point. You know Russell Westbrook and Durant are going to get their shots and points, but if Harden is making plays it makes your defense have to adjust that much more. He's really effective in the angle pick and roll, especially going for the left hand. He's very dangerous, can pass and can make plays. He makes the right decisions. He's sneaky good, and sneaky athletic, as well. People might have underestimated Harden when he came in the league, saying he wasn't athletic enough. But as you see now, he's getting to the rim and he's finishing above people as well. With Harden, when he's on you've got to try to keep the ball out of his hands. The Mavs left him in his comfort spots in Game 2.
Don't forget Eric Maynor, either. He played a very strong game.
I was a little surprised to see Scott Brooks keep Maynor in the fourth quarter over Westbrook, who was a second-team All-NBA player and had a great season, but coaches have instincts and have to make decisions on the fly. He may have planned to give Russell a four- or five-minute break, maybe put him back in at the six-minute mark, but the game was going in their favor. Brooks liked the tempo and the way Maynor was playing, making the big floater with the shot clock winding down. Sometimes you have to stick with whatever is working.
I think Westbrook probably will understand, but I won't lie and say it's easy to adjust to that. We're all NBA players, and have our competitive sides. In his mind, before he was taken out I think he probably thought he had a rhythm and flow, and had made some jump shots. Then he comes off and doesn't play anymore. You pat your teammate on the back, but as an individual and as a competitor you're like, "Man, I could have been out there." At the end of the day, a win is a win. You have to think, "Now that game's over with. Now we've got Game 3 to worry about." But I know it's got to be in the back of his mind after the game, and probably the next day, too.
But once the next game comes, that stuff is over. That's how you have to look at it. At the end of the day, a win is a win. Now they have critical game to worry about.
Dallas probably hopes Russell doesn't let it go, gets mad and comes out overshooting in Game 3. Even though he had a roll up during Game 2, I think the Mavericks probably go by the numbers game and say the best percentages are to let him shoot more than anybody else.
Looking at Game 3 from Dallas' perspective, I think Harden becomes a big focus, and the guy the Mavs will make the biggest adjustment on. After Game 1, even though Dirk had the 48-point game, the Thunder knew they had to slow down Barea and Terry, because those are the guys who really made the game for Dallas, even though Dirk made all 24 of his free throws and shot 12-for-15. If he puts up the same numbers but Barea doesn't get 21 or Terry 24, then Oklahoma City probably wins Game 1.
Dallas will look at Game 2 and Harden the same way.
The Thunder will have the crowd behind them, bringing that energy. They're going to run more. For them, though, it's about minimizing mistakes. They've had trouble in third quarters, definitely in Game 2 and even going back to the Memphis series. So for the Thunder, their adjustments will be pretty simple. Come out in the third quarter with a more focused attitude and make sure you're taking care of the ball and not making careless turnovers.
They can give themselves more opportunities to score.
In the end, Game 2 was a big, big win for Oklahoma City. The Thunder split in Dallas and now have the upper hand going home. They got what they wanted.