Dallas, TX (Sports Network) – Dirk Nowitzki outdueled Kevin Durant, scoring 48 points on just 15 shots Tuesday to lead the Mavericks over the Thunder, 121-112, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Two days after an emotional Game 7 win over Memphis, the Thunder had no answer on defense for the 7-foot Nowitzki, who scored 27 of his points in the second half and set an NBA playoff record by hitting all 24 of his free throws.
"I thought Dirk was pretty good," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, tongue planted firmly in his cheek. "He’s been doing it for many years against a lot of good players.
"He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at that position offensively. A lot of shots you don’t think he has a chance to make, but he does."
But it wasn’t just Nowitzki.
Late in the game, Oklahoma City struggled to guard the 6-foot J.J. Barea, who poured in 12 straight points to help Dallas build a 15-point lead.
Durant scored 40 in the game, hitting a pair of free throws after he was fouled hard by Nowitzki on a break to get the Thunder within five points at the end of a 10-0 run.
"We made it a game. We just have to keep pushing," said Durant.
But with fresh legs from an eight-day layoff they earned by sweeping the Lakers, the Mavs held on down the stretch. They got eight points from Nowitzki in the final 2 1/2 minutes and won their franchise-record seventh straight playoff game.
"I was in the gym a lot every night and it paid off," Nowitzki said of Dallas’ layoff. "I looked for my shot a lot early and was able to get into a good rhythm."
Game 2 is Thursday in Dallas.
Jason Terry had 24 points off the bench for the third-seeded Mavs and Barea, also a reserve, scored 21 in just 16 minutes. But Nowitzki carried the team most of the way. He was 12-of-15 from the floor and set the league postseason record for free throws without a miss.
"That’s part of his greatness. He’s so good, that in an effort to prevent him from getting the ball he draws fouls," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. "That kind of number is possible, but there are very few guys in the league who can do that.
"Unfortunately for us, one of the other guys is Durant."
The NBA’s leading scorer each of the past two years, Durant went 10-for-18 from the field and was almost as good as Nowitzki at the line, missing just one of his 19 foul shots.
But guard Russell Westbrook, although he scored 20 points, went 3-for-15 shooting and had just three assists for the fourth-seeded Thunder.
They took 43 foul shots, making 37, while the Mavs made 34 of their 36 attempts in a game that was more stop-and-start than a rush hour traffic jam.
"This series is going to be in large part about the free throw line," said Carlisle. "We were fortunate tonight. We had a lot of loose possessions that we’re going to have to clean up."
The Mavs went on a 16-1 run near the end of the second quarter to build a seven-point lead at halftime and pushed it to double digits in the third quarter.
If the series comes down to a scoring battle between Nowitzki and Durant, then Round 1 went to the Mavs forward. Scoring early and often, he rarely missed.
Nowitzki pump-faked tough defender Kendrick Perkins, then knocked down a jumper over James Harden to give Dallas a 75-64 lead in the third. Brooks drew a technical foul and Nowitzki made the free throw for a 12-point lead.
Nowitzki pushed the lead to 15 moments later and the Mavs took a 90-79 advantage into the fourth, where they found a spark from their smallest player on the floor.
Barea scored 12 straight points for the Mavs, including a three-pointer and step-back jumper that gave them a 104-89 lead inside seven minutes. Overall, the Dallas bench outscored Oklahoma City’s 53-22.
"Those guys have gotta be ready for anything," said Carlisle — and Barea showed up at exactly the right time. With All-Stars Durant and Westbrook running the show, the Thunder can never be counted out.
"They were always right there," said Nowitzki. "The main thing is we were able to find a win."
The Mavs opened the game on a 10-3 run, but Oklahoma City controlled the last eight minutes of the first quarter. Durant went 5-for-5 and scored 13 points, guiding the Thunder to a 27-20 lead heading into the second.
They went up by nine, but Dallas followed with a 9-0 run capped by Terry’s three-pointer and four straight points from Nowitzki to tie the game.
Terry and Peja Stojakovic buried three-pointers during the Mavs’ 16-1 run later in the quarter, which gave them a 55-46 lead. They were ahead 55-48 at halftime behind Nowitzki’s 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Durant scored 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
Dallas forward Shawn Marion was the only player who fouled out…Asked why Nowitzki is so tough to guard, Durant answered simply: "He’s a 7-foot jumpshooter." Brooks said: "We have to do a better job of guarding him. Hopefully he misses a shot here or there."