Coach’s Notebook: Random Mavericks/Thunder Observations
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Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.
- After watching Dirk Nowitzki have one of the most dominant individual offensive performances in recent playoff history, it is hard not to wonder if the mid season trade that brought the Oklahoma City Thunder a big, strong body named Kendrick Perkins and gave up a versatile, athletic defender named Jeff Green might have been a small mistake.
There is little doubt that the point of that trade was to better prepare OKC for playing in the conference finals, but it would seem their projected opponent at the time was the Los Angeles Lakers with their plethora of interior players, not the Dallas Mavericks. While it might be a little presumptuous to think Green would have been able to slow down Nowitzki in Tuesday’s game, thinking that he could at the very least provide six more fouls and at most help with his length and quickness in preventing the drives that led to foul line opportunities.
In addition, Green would give Oklahoma City another option to help stretch the zone defense that Dallas employs. Since the Thunder are using two interior players together now, they are much easier to zone than if they had a stretch four (like Green) who was a threat to hit the longball.
- While this has been the case much of the year, Tuesday’s Game 1 gave a much bigger national audience a chance to see how good Dirk Nowitzki has become—on the defensive end of the floor. He was focused and locked in defensively, staying low and using his length to bother players around him. Because of the presence of Tyson Chandler behind him (and to a lesser extent, Brendan Haywood), Nowitzki has been more aggressive defensively this year than any other, and his awareness has risen significantly.
A moment in the game which really illustrated this progression came in a play where Nowitzki found himself switched onto Kendrick Perkins in the low post. Haywood, perhaps wanting to relieve Dirk of having to physically match up with the bruising Perkins, sauntered over in an awkward double-team. Perkins saw it coming and through a pass to a cutting Serge Ibaka, who Nowitzki was forced to foul. After the whistle, Dirk ripped into Haywood, undoubtedly telling the center how to defend that situation next time. How many people could see that situation unfolding five or six years ago?
- Going hand in hand with Nowitzki’s improvements and attention on the defensive end of the floor is the fact that this Dallas team is significantly more physical than they have been in years past. Every foray to the rim by Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant is challenged by a bodily presence. The Mavericks are giving harder fouls, not allowing easy shots, and have looked, quite frankly, like the more experienced playoff team that they are. Oklahoma City needs to raise their level of physicality to match Dallas—a definite change of pace for people who still think the Mavericks are soft and unwilling to get physical.
- In the immediate aftermath of Nowitzki’s out-of-this-world performance, a number of analysts wondered aloud about how Oklahoma City played Nowitzki poorly and would need to do multiple things to slow him down in the future. In particular, they pointed to the Thunder’s decision to basically allow Dirk to receive the ball in the post unabated and then to play him mostly straight up, with no additional defenders, and claimed it was a mistake on OKC’s part.
Remember, though, the postseason is a novel, not a short story. In the previous chapter, the Lakers threw everything they had at defending Nowitzki, aggressively denying passing lanes, and then sending a weakside forward to double or at least discourage Dirk from driving. The Mavericks absolutely skewered this defense with cross court passing and hot outside shooting. For Oklahoma City, the decision to guard Nowitzki the way they did was a conscious one, aware that he had a real potential for a big game.
All in all, the Thunder shouldn’t be too worried about their strategy not working. Nowitzki was dominant, but he cannot continue that kind of torrid shooting percentage for the entire series. For the Thunder, continuing the strategy they employed in Game 1 might seem foolhardy to some—but it actually seems the best way to help Oklahoma City defeat the Dallas Mavericks (even if it lets Dirk Nowitzki average 35+ per game).
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 2PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.