Mavericks vs. Thunder: Thoughts on Defending Dirk
The Mavs and the Thunder met three times this season with Dallas holding a 2-1 edge. The road team won each game and the key thing to remember about OKC's win is that Dirk Nowitzki was out with injury. Though, the Mavs had Caron Butler's services in their two wins and he's doubtful for this series.
Keep in mind, a lot has changed since these teams last met on Jan. 6th, so can't put too much stock in these reg. season games predicting the outcome of the Western Finals. The Mavs have added sharpshooting ace Peja Stojakovic, who's been huge for Dallas in the playoffs. On the side, the Thunder have added Kendrick Perkins. The defense has improved by exchanging a starting frontline of Krstic/Green for a frontline of Perkins/Ibaka.
In this piece, we wanted to pay specific attention to how Dallas used Dirk vs. OKC and how the Thunder chose to guard Dirk. The sample size was limited by the fact that Dirk missed the Jan. 6th meeting and only managed 11 minutes in the Dec. 27th meeting because of a knee injury early in the 2nd Q. Dirk did light up OKC on Nov. 24th with 34 pts in 39 minutes.
In Dirk's 50 minutes of total floor time over the two games, he scorched OKC with 47 pts on 13-of-21 shooting, including 19 trips to the FT line. Dallas made a habit of setting up Dirk on the post vs. OKC.
Counted 21 post-up plays over Dirk's two games vs. OKC. On post-ups plays, Dirk managed to produce 22 pts for himself on 5-of-9 shooting, six drawn shooting fouls (12 FTs), 3 TOs and three kick-outs.
Dallas preferred to set up Dirk on left block. He's generally very dangerous with his fadeaway over his right shoulder on the left block. Also, had a couple of isolations at the free throw line, sometimes set up after pick/roll switches where he either had Westbrook or Harden guarding him.
Most of the time, Jeff Green had the honor of checking the German. OKC rarely doubled Dirk on the block with an immediate, hard double and usually let Green fend for himself. If the doubles came, they came after Dirk made a sharp move toward the basket. The few times Dirk did kick out of doubles were because he had guards switched on him and OKC felt compelled to help their smalls. Even then the doubles were not urgent.
The main difference between the reg. season meetings and this series: Serge Ibaka will be the primary defender vs. Dirk instead of Green in this series. I'm not sure if this will lead to better results. Nick Collison will see some time (imagine Dirk will try to draw him away from painted area) and might see Durant get a couple of cracks at Dirk.
We all know Ibaka is a tremendous defensive presence as a basket protector but his normal defensive duties will be totally different in this series. Dirk will force Ibaka out deeper than Zach Randolph and Serge will have to deal with Dirk's ability to make plays off the dribble. This could also possibly hurt the integrity of OKC's defense as Ibaka's menacing help defense will be compromised by him following Dirk all over the floor. When Dirk's off-the-ball Ibaka needs to stay close to him, he won't be free to roam for blocks. Ibaka will definitely be out of his comfort zone on defense, not sure as a relatively inexperienced player how he'll adjust.
In the regular season, only counted roughly 5-6 possessions where Ibaka lined up on Dirk. Surely limited data but thought Serge did do a decent job getting in Dirk's space on posts/isos. Forced a miss on a turnaround on the left block and made Dirk cough up the ball on high isolation. Though, Dirk did knock down three 3-pointers over Ibaka on spot-ups (two of those makes were over quality close-outs by Ibaka).
Could possibly see Coach Carlisle choosing more isos or extended post-ups in this series to move Ibaka away from the basket. No doubt Dirk makes things tough for his opponent down low because he's adept going left or right. On the right block, he can face-up, hit turnarounds over both shoulders or drive the ball middle to finish with his left hand.
Thought it was interesting that OKC's main strategy vs. Dirk was to primarily allow him to work one-on-one. Interested to see if Coach Brooks decides to send more hard doubles in the series than he did during the season. He might stick with his regular season tactics after seeing how Dirk punished the Lakers when they brought extra defenders early.
*--(Thanks to fine folks at Synergy Sports for providing data for this post.)