Is this the year of the Dirk?
That's the major question being asked after Dirk Nowitzki and his Mavericks followed a four game sweep of the defending champion Lakers with an impressive 121-112 game 1 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder to open up the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday night. Nowitzki was on fire from the outset, nailing 10 of his first 11 shots on his way to an effortless 48 point night.
"I thought Dirk was pretty good tonight," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, laughing. "I thought we defended him as close as we can — obviously, too close."
Dirk got his 48 points on 12 of 15 shooting, along with 24 points on a perfect 24 for 24 from the line, an NBA playoff-record. He proved to be an unstoppable juggernaut in game 1 and no matter who the Thunder threw at him, his shots were falling with alarming accuracy.
"I was really looking to shoot early and was able to get my rhythm after the first couple of shots," said Nowitzki, who had six rebounds, four assists and four blocks. "I kept attacking and my teammates kept feeding me and feeding me and I was able to take advantage over some smaller players."
Dirk got some productive help from teammates Jason Terry and J.J. Barea, who combined to score 45. Their assistance in the scoring load helped to keep the Thunder from buckling down on Nowitzki, allowing him to relentlessly attack the hoop.
Despite the offensive dominance of Dallas, Oklahoma City steadfastly refused to be completely put away, keeping the game within striking distance as time wound down in the fourth despite being down by double digits the majority of the game.
On the plus side, Kevin Durant did put up 40 for the Thunder in the losing effort but couldn't be matched by fellow star Russell Westbrook, who went an anemic 3-15 in the game. Westbrook, who is normally a consistent scorer, just couldn't find his rhythm Tuesday night and it proved the difference in the Mavs win.
"I could bet my whole house that Russell Westbrook won't go 3-15 again," Kevin Durant said after the game. "You can quote me on that."
Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder will get a chance on Thursday night to even the series and avenge this poor outing. The key to that will be stopping Nowitzki, something that will prove easier said than done.
"After playing a physical series with Memphis, I think we were a little too physical with him," Durant said of Dirk. "We have to make adjustments, be smarter. It's a learning experience, just feeling it out and seeing how we're going to play."
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