Dirk Nowitzki was obviously unstoppable with 48 points and an NBA playoff-record 24 of 24 free throws, but the Mavs were stagnant and stale offensively until J.J. Barea entered the game in the second quarter. As Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said afterward, "He's a handful." I'm still shocked at his effectiveness. But I can no longer deny it. His 21 points in 16 electric minutes changed the whole tenor.
9. I set the over/under for Mavs turnovers at 12. Around that number or lower and I figure they'll win games and the series. If they get careless and it gets up into the teens the Thunder can win this thing. Last night? Dallas had five turnovers in the first quarter and trailed by seven. Final tally: 12. Only seven turnovers through three quarters is winning basketball.
8. Win or lose this series, we about done with this "Mavs are soft" nonsense? Dirk was relentlessly aggressive and Shawn Marion played through a bloodied, almost broken nose.
7. Not often is a 40-point playoff game a footnote, but Kevin Durant got no help from sidekick Russell Westbrook. Twenty points is nice, but he missed 12 of his 15 shot attempts. Said Durant, "I'll bet you my house that he doesn't go three for 15 in the next game. You can quote me on that."
6. Weird look at AAC with all the royal blue T-shirts and the visiting Thunder wearing blue jerseys. Also saw a very drunk OKC fan in a Durant jersey get handcuffed and escorted out by two of Dallas' finest. Bravo.
5. In an attempt to stop Nowitzki, the Thunder guarded him with Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Thabo Sefolosha and by double-teaming on the dribble. Only guy they didn't try was assistant coach Maurice Cheeks. The Thunder is a proud defensive team that refused to double Memphis' Zach Randolph last series, but nothing worked. Dirk shot 7 of 9 over Ibaka and drew an amazing 16 fouls from Thunder defenders.
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4. You knew it was going to be a special night when in the first quarter Dirk pump-faked Ibaka to the roof, spun left, drove baseline and...dunked. Just for fun, he also added four blocked shots.
3. Favorite Dirk move of the night: With Sefolosha up under his jersey on the right wing, he rocked the defender with a couple of subtle jab steps. With Sefolosha off-balance, he then jumped up -- and back -- off one foot for a patented Flamingo Fadeaway. Off the glass, no less. Sorry OKC, that's H-O-R-S-E.
2. Michael Jordan is more flashy. Kobe Bryant is more athletic. But I've seen them all in person, and they weren't more productive than Dirk last night. Forty-eight points on only 15 shot attempts is just re-Dirk-ulous. And all without a 3-point attempt. The ball left Dirk's hands toward the basket 39 times and went in 36 times. Next closest to that kind of playoff efficiency? Bob Cousy scored 48 points on 22 shots in the '50s. Said teammate Peja Stojakovic, "Best performance I've ever seen."
1. In his last two Western Conference Finals games at AAC (last night vs. Thunder + 2006's Game 5 vs. Suns) Dirk's totals: 98 points on 51-of-52 free throws.