A big reason for the Oklahoma City Thunder winning Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks was Kendrick Perkins’ defense on Dirk Nowitzki in the final minutes.
Serge Ibaka had been playing Dirk for most of the game and Scott Brooks switched Perkins on him late. Perkins forced Dirk into a miss and two turnovers and did it with simply great effort and energy.
In Game 2 we expected to see the same from the Thunder, going with Perkins on Dirk. It wasn’t featured early with Ibaka still getting some run on Dirk and foul trouble for everyone. But we did see the matchup late.
Dirk missed two huge shots in the final minutes, shots we’re not used to seeing him miss. He got great looks and he got them because Dallas adjusted to Perkins covering him.
In Game 1 Perkins covered Dirk in isolation and back-to-the-basket situations. That’s where Dirk was killing Ibaka.
Perkins took that away so Dallas went to using Dirk in the pick-and-roll when Perkins was on him in Game 2.
The first of Dirk’s misses was the most surprising. He became wide open for a three from the left wing after setting a screen for Jason Terry. Russell Westbrook was trailing Terry and Perkins forced to show at least a little. That left Dirk wide open and he missed the seemingly automatic look.
Dallas went to the same set on their next possession and this time Jason Kidd found Dirk open rolling to the basket. Ibaka came over to help and the set accomplished what it set out to at least to an extent and got Perkins away from Dirk.
Dirk posted Ibaka on the left block and went to his patented fadeaway one-footer. He did not get the roll and the Thunder would win the game because of these two misses.
At first look, I thought Dirk should have gone at Ibaka the way he always does when he has success: spinning to that right shoulder and getting contact going to the rim. Instead he went to the fallaway and Ibaka actually played the move well reacting very quickly to the spin and maybe Dirk sensed this and that’s why he went for that shot.
Dirk has been great in these first two games despite Dallas losing both. It will be a challenge for Oklahoma City to continue to play him decently heading on the road for the next two games.
But we’ve seen something we’re not used to with Dirk and that’s him not coming up absolutely huge in the final moments of games. The Thunder have done a good job effecting this and it may lead to them eventually winning this series.