The Mavs can play better than they did in Game 1 of the NBA's Western Conference Finals.
For the first time in the playoffs they allowed 100 points, 112 to be exact. The Thunder grabbed 11 offensive rebounds and, according to Mavs' coach Rick Carlisle, corralled 13 of the game's 20 loose balls. In the fourth quarter it felt like Dallas was trading Dirk Nowitzki free throws for Serge Ibaka uncontested dunks.
Oklahoma City will play better in tonight's Game 2. Russell Westbrook will make more than three shots and coach Scotty Brooks will not simply be content to sit and watch his team foul Dirk one-on-one. But if certain aspects of Game 1 repeat, won't mean a damn thing what OKC does.
J.J. Barea and Jason Terry both scored 20+ plus, the first bench duo to accomplish that in a conference finals since way back in '91 with the Pistons' Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aguirre. But while Dallas' bench bewildered the Thunder, Dirk buried them with a playoff performance we've rarely -- if ever -- witnessed in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Started pondering this yesterday: Is Dirk's Game 1 the greatest individual playoff game in the history of our local sports?
Key words: Playoff.
Please consider it before you start wildly and emotionally throwing "Nolan kickin' Ventura's ass!" or "Emmitt's shoulder game!" into the discussion.
While certainly landmark performances and indelible memories, neither was a playoff game. Smith's heroics against the Giants came in the regular-season finale that landed the NFC East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the Cowboys, but Ryan's fabled headlock of Ventura occured in an early-August win which merely improved him to 3-3 and his team to 54-53.
I'm talking legendary stuff with long-ranging implications. Just with a little digging I came up with these candidates:
*Dirk Game 1 vs. Thunder '11: 48 points on 15 shots, 24-24 free throws
*Dirk Game 5 vs. Suns '06: 50 points
*Roy Tarpley Game 3 vs. Lakers '88: 21 points/20 rebounds
*Chuck Howley Super Bowl vs. Colts '71: 2 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 12 tackles
*Troy Aikman Super Bowl vs. Bills '93: 4 touchdown passes
*Emmitt Smith NFC Championship vs. Packers '96: 35 carries, 150 yards, 3 touchdowns
*Michael Irvin NFC Championship vs. 49ers '95: 12 catches, 192 yards, 2 touchdowns
*Cliff Lee Game 3 vs. Yankees '10: 2-hit, 13-strikeout shutout
*Juan Gonzalez Game 2 vs. Yankees '96: 2 homers off Andy Pettite
*Josh Hamilton Game 6 vs. Yankees '10: Single, followed by 3 intentional walks
*Brett Hull Game 6 vs. Sabres '99: Cup-clinching goal in triple overtime
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*Marty Turco Game 6 vs. Sharks '08: 61 saves in 2-1, four-overtime
As for results, the winner is either Hull (who won the Stars the Stanley Cup) or Aikman (who helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XXVII). As for sheer dominance, it's either Lee (who totally muffled New York in Yankee Stadium in Game 3 of the ALCS) or Turco (whose Game 6 defensive defiance allowed Dallas to reach the West Finals) or Smith (who almost single-handedly propelled his team over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.) And Hamilton deserves a nod not for what he did, but what a team feared he would do.
I enjoyed watching them all. If I had to pick the best -- because of the stakes -- I'd go with Aikman. If Dirk repeats his performance in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, we'll revisit.