Result: Dallas beat Oklahoma 121-112
What that means: Mavericks take a 1-0 lead in the series
How it happened: Facing a long, boring wait for his next playoff game, Dirk Nowitzki did what he normally does. He went to the gym.
There were daytime sessions with his Dallas Mavericks teammates, of course, but also return trips at night. Knowing a chance for a return trip to the NBA finals was coming up, Nowitzki wanted to make sure his wide array of shots were as fine-tuned as ever.
When the Western Conference finals opened last night, Nowitzki acted as if the Oklahoma City Thunder and the 20,911 fans in the arena were merely there to watch another of his late-night workouts.
Inside, outside and from the foul line, Nowitzki put up a total of 39 shots and missed just three. He scored 48 points, leading the Mavericks to a 121-112 victory and answering any question about whether the long layoff might’ve left his club rusty.
“I really looked for my shot early and was able to get a good rhythm,” said Nowitzki, who also had six rebounds, four assists and four blocks. “For a shooter, obviously when the first couple go in, that’s even better for the confidence, and I just attacked from there. So, yeah, it was a good game.”
It didn’t matter whether Nowitzki was being covered by someone big or small, one guy or two. He simply made 10 of his first 11 field goals, and 12 of 15 overall. He was perfect on 24 free throws, setting an NBA postseason record for most foul shots made without a miss.
His 48 points were the most by anyone this postseason. It was two shy of his most ever in a playoff game, which came in the finale of the 2006 Western Conference finals. The Thunder better figure out a way to slow him soon, or else Dallas will be headed to the title round again.
“We feel like every year, every new season in the playoffs is a new opportunity for us,” said Nowitzki, still stinging from blowing a 2-0 lead in the 2006 finals. “We’re just trying to go for it.”
The Mavs have won seven straight playoff games, stretching a franchise record. They’re also 6-0 at home this postseason, and will host Game 2 on Thursday night.
But give Oklahoma City some credit.
Two days removed from ending a tough second-round series against Memphis — it went seven games, plus four overtimes — the youngsters were down by 16 points early in the fourth quarter and didn’t give up. They got within five with 3:42 left, and six with 48.5 seconds to play.
“We fought back and made it a game,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing and stay positive and get ready for Game 2.”
Durant scored 40 points, one shy of his most ever in a playoff game, but it wasn’t the same as Nowitzki’s big night.
He made his first six shots, just like the big German did, then made only one of his next seven. By the time Durant regained his touch, the Mavs were way ahead and the Thunder were clawing back.
Oklahoma City could’ve used a more efficient performance from Russell Westbrook. He scored 20 points, but 14 came on free throws. He missed 10 of his first 11 shots, and 12 of 15 — the exact opposite of what Nowitzki made.
“He was attacking the basket,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s what we want Russell to do.”