By John Schmeelk
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There’s no other word to describe it. I had to make one up. That was riDirkulous. I hope everyone enjoyed the show Dirk Nowitzki put on last night. It’s something you might never see again. Let this settle in for a second. Dirk scored 48 point on FIFTEEN shots from the field. FIFTEEN. He missed THREE. He didn’t attempt one 3-pointer. He shot 24 free throws, and made all of them. It was the most efficient offensive performance I have ever seen, regular season or postseason. It was the most impressive offensive postseason performance, from start to finish, that I have ever seen (and yes, that includes Jordan).
As awe-inspiring as those stats are, it doesn’t match how amazing it was to watch him do it. He wasn’t getting a bunch of lay-ups or wide open jump shots. He was taking tough mid range jump shots, fading away off one leg with hands in his face. He did it again, and again. He hit EVERYTHING. The Thunder tried every defender they could to stop him. Serge Ibaka, fail. Kendrick Perkins, no chance. Nick Collison, nice try. Kevin Durant, two quick fouls. Watching James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha try to check him was like watching children guarding adults on the playground. It was as though after the game he just looked at the Thunder roster and said, “Hey guys, thanks for playing.”
Short of running double teams at him, something I would assume the Thunder will start doing in Game 2, there was nothing they could do to stop him. Dirk was unstoppable. He was absolutely unguardable. I’m too young to remember Larry Bird in his prime, but seeing all the tape I have, I imagine this is what it was like watching him when he had that look in his eyes and the jumper falling. It was beautiful.
I do hope this performance erases some preconceptions people still have of Dirk’s game that are wildly out of date. He no longer hangs out around the three point line heaving long jumpers. He might not be a beast in the low post, but there’s no doubt he is a post player. Nearly every catch last night came from 15-18 feet with his back to the basket. It allows him to take one dribble or simply turn and shoot already in a great position to score. He got to the line 24 times, using his veteran savvy to force defenders to foul him. And yes, for the most part, they were legit fouls. He is much more than just a shooter.
Now, I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to fit Dirk into the pantheon of all-time greats simply because of one game, no matter how unbelievable it was. If he starts repeating it, then we’ll have a new conversation, but that’s never going to happen. But what he has done has gone a long way to erasing blowing a 2-0 series lead to the Heat, and losing as a one seed in a seven game series to Golden State. No team really has a good matchup for Dirk. There aren’t many seven footers out there that can step out and guard a versatile scorer 18 feet away from the hoop. His window for winning another title is wide open.
The most amazing thing is how no one is talking about Kevin Durant’s 40 point effort, which was rightfully overshadowed by Dirk’s efficiency. In my preview of the series, I showed how neither team had a decent matchup for the other’s stars. For the most part it played out, except for Russell Westbrook. He shot only 3-15 and was slowed down more by Dallas big men waiting for him in the paint as he was by Jason Kidd, who doesn’t have the foot speed to stay with him. If the Thunder want to win this series he needs to play better. They also might want to make Dirk miss a couple shots. Move over Mercedes. Move over BMW. Now THAT’s German efficiency at its best.
Some quick bullets on Bulls-Heat tonight:
– The more I see it, the more those two dunks by Taj Gibson on Sunday remind me of Shawn Kemp in his prime. Spectacular and vicious at the same time. Great power. Next time, Dwyane Wade will know better.
– It’s obvious the Bulls are completely focused on cutting off the penetration of Wade and LeBron with their help defense. It’s on the Heat tonight to run some plays and move the ball to exploit Chicago’s weak side defense.
– Can the Heat rebound better? They better. If they can somehow get close to even with the Bulls, at least keeping them off the offensive glass, it will help their game in two ways. First, it eliminates second chance points, something a not so efficient team like the Bulls need. Just as important, defensive rebounds will allow the Heat to push the ball in transition and get some easy baskets. All fast breaks start with a defensive rebound and an outlet pass. With the Bulls excellent halfcourt defense, the Heat need this in the worst way.
– And finally, let’s give some credit to Luol Deng. He might be a bit overpaid, but he is a solid all-around player. He has a high basketball IQ, can score, pass, and play defense. He has the size and strength to deal with LeBron, no easy task. He did a great job in Game 1. Now let’s see if that can continue as LeBron makes his adjustments.
Oh yeah, and on the draft lottery. It’s all well and good the Cavs got the 1st and 4th picks in the draft but anyone who thinks this comes close to making up for LeBron’s departure, think again. Oh yeah, genius move by the Clippers not top three protecting that pick they sent to Cleveland for Baron Davis. Whoops. That type of lack of attention to detail and sloppiness has doomed the Clippers franchise for a long time.
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