Oklahoma City leads 2-0
After the conclusion of last year’s Mavs-Thunder series – where the Mavericks dispensed the Thunder with relative ease in five games – Russell Westbrook pulled a LeBron and stormed off the court without exchanging handshakes with the Mavericks players and coaches. Afterwards, he was heavily criticized not just for his lack of sportsmanship at the moment, but also his play. His shot selection and apparent reluctance to let Kevin Durant be the go-to scorer was much maligned – even up to this day. Subsequently, many were persistently questioning the ability of Westbrook to coexist with Durant.
In this year’s playoffs, it appears that questioning has halted – at least for the moment. While Kevin Durant has struggled with his jump shot over the first two games – albeit lifting the Thunder in the waning seconds of Game 1 – it was his co-pilot Westbrook who led the charge this time around with 29 points and leading the Thunder to a Game 2 victory. In these last two games, he’s been the steady scorer that OKC expects Durant to be. With Dallas having only Jason Kidd – who has 17 years worth of mileage on his legs – and Roddy Beaubois –who has yet to provide the same spark as a backup point guard as JJ Barea used to – to guard him, Westbrook is the single worst matchup for the Mavericks. A huge reason why Kevin Durant is struggling to find a rhythm is because Rick Carlisle has Shawn Marion to make Durant’s life difficult. But they have no such answer for Westbrook, and they should take full advantage of that.
Still, the game was very much within reach for Dallas. Had Dirk Nowitzki not missed a WIDE open three-pointer (which I’m quite shocked that he missed) and a 12-foot fadeaway in the closing minutes, the series could very well be tied.
Should Dallas be worried?
Yes. For the second straight game, Dallas threatened to steal home court advantage from the Thunder. But also for the second straight game, they failed to execute down the stretch. One has to believe that Dirk will not keep missing clutch shots – particularly in Dallas over the next two games. But they should also be worried about their lack of production from their bench. Roddy Beaubois and Brandan Wright did not see much time on the floor (5 minutes each), chiefly due to their overall nervous play so far. Vince Carter has logged 30+ minutes in each of the first two games, but only scored 5 points on 2-9 shooting and only attempted 2 free throws. He did have some nice moments in these first two games, but for a guy of Carter’s caliber (and with plenty of playoff experience), he needs to play better.
What to expect in Game 3
If you’re Dallas, you have to take some positives from losing two road games by only a combined four points against a heavily favored team. Quite reasonably, this series could easily be 2-0 in favor of Dallas. Still, their inability to execute in crunch time in two straight close games is troubling.
If you’re OKC, you’re hoping that KD finds his shot again. If not, you have to ride Westbrook and let him be “The Man” again, despite seemingly everyone’s preconceived notion that he shouldn’t be more than a second fiddle.
I may be just desperately clinging on to my pre-series prediction at this point, but I just can’t see Dallas going away this easily. Being at home, I think one of Dallas’s role players – who, outside of Jason Terry, have been fairly nonexistent up to this point – will put his imprint on the series. I also don’t think Dirk – a proven playoff performer – can choke in three straight games when the game is close. Therefore, without feeling comfortable with the prediction at all, I say Dallas wins Game 3 fairly handily.