Dirk Nowitzki has fought and clawed like a man possessed. It's time for his teammates to follow suit (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki).
Monday, Nov 25 at 1:19 AM
Queue up Al Pacino’s locker room speech from 'Any Given Sunday,' because this Dallas Mavericks -- Oklahoma City Thunder playoff matchup has fully proven the ‘Game of Inches’ theory. The inches went Kevin Durant’s way in Game One and didn’t for Dirk Nowitzki in Game Two.
And now the Thunder are up two games to none with full control.
By using the crazy concept of mathematics, this series appears close on many levels. Only separated by four points over two games, the pace and scoring has been nearly identical so far with the Thunder scoring 99 and 102 points and the Mavericks with 98 and 99 points, respectively.
Despite a run last night where the Thunder led by double digits for a short period of time, the first couple of games have been stocked full of ties, lead changes, and play closer than the distance between Dirk Nowitzki’s elbow and Russell Westbrook’s face. That’s what tends to happen in a rivalry of teams who know each other so well and let there be no doubt, this Oklahoma-Texas duo has quickly become a rivalry.
Shocking, I know.
Still, despite the numbers, are these two teams actually close? There is a reason the Thunder are the two-seed and the Mavericks are the seven: The Oklahoma City Thunder have been better than Dallas this year. They’re better than almost anyone.
The Mavs aren’t just underdogs like in so many (all?) of their series in last year’s playoffs; they’re actually the inferior team this time around. There’s nothing wrong with that, as upsets happen all the time. But it means their margin for error is extremely slim and they’ll have to work harder for everything they get.
Specifically, the dispersion of scoring causes stress for one team and is a non-issue for the other. For Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant can shoot 5-17 in Game One and Russell Westbrook or James Harden can be consistently counted on to contribute in a scoring role. When scoring can be so easily relied on by a few, good things begin to happen for that team.
Guys like Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and (my God) Derek Fisher can get on scoring rolls which make the opponent feel like their collective sky is falling. Everything seems to come so much easier for the better team who has things rolling. We saw it last year in Dallas.
Right now, a 5-17 shooting night for Dirk Nowitzki would almost certainly bury Dallas on that night. Jason Terry has proven he can be that additional scorer, but with defenses rolling to him late in the game (let’s all thank Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for this), it’s Dirk or bust so far.
So far, by a few inches, that hasn’t been enough.
Still, we’re not done here. Thanks to Rick Carlisle’s adjustments and overall mastery of anything Thunder coach Scott Brooks is capable of, the Mavericks are a tough matchup for the Thunder, who can’t seem to gain consistent separation from their seven-seed counterparts. They’re beating the Mavericks, but Rick Carlisle, along with Nowitzki, deserves massive praise for not allowing this to get out of hand.
It’s not quite smoke and mirrors, but Carlisle certainly isn’t working with the same group he had in 2011. He and the Mavs have had very little margin for error, but coming home for two game on Thursday and Saturday will crack that window open a bit more.
They’ll need it too. Counting the preseason, playoffs, and regular season, the Mavericks are just 1-7 against the Thunder this year. Considering that, it will be quite a tall order to take four of five games from Oklahoma City over the next few days to win the series.
It may feel like the Mavericks barely lost the first two games, but they need to make some drastic adjustments to turn their fortunes around. They can start with a return to their ball movement-oriented offense and someone stepping into a consistent scoring role next to Terry and Nowitzki. To pull off a relative miracle, that's what needs to happen.
And perhaps a center can show up for Dallas, as well (please, hold off on your Tyson Chandler opinions).
It starts on Thursday in Dallas where the Mavericks face their first must-win game of the season. The inches, among other things, need to start falling in the favor of the Mavs.
Kevin Brolan is a contributor to DallasBasketball.com and HoopsAddict.com. Follow him for mind numbing thoughts on basketball, most sports, and general nonsense at @kevinbrolan.