Mavericks 4, Thunder 1: A Review of My Preview
Not bad for a team that about 50 percent of prognosticators picked would lose to the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. I picked the Mavs to beat Portland, but lose to the Lakers and then to outlast the Thunder in the West Finals, but not in five games.
Not that it was easy by any means. Dallas won its four games by 9, 6, 7 and 4 points, once rallying from 15 down, winning in overtime and overcoming an 8-point fourth-quarter deficit in the finale.
Before we look ahead in detail at next week's NBA Finals, a look back at a memorable West Finals shook down:
PREDICTION: POINT GUARD -- Key to the series as far as I'm concerned. While Jason Kidd has to control the tempo and keep Dallas' half-court offense executing without turnovers in the teens, he's also got to find the energy to try to stay in front of Russell Westbrook. No one's been able to do that all year. Edge: Thunder.
RESULT -- Westpunk was a beast, constantly getting to the rim. He averaged 23.6 points per game and shot 53 free throws, but his assists-to-turnovers ratio was a ridiculously pitiful 24-to-24. Kidd not only played clutch defense on Westbrook and Durant, but also hit the series' most important shot -- a 3-pointer that gave Dallas the lead for good in overtime of Game 4. Amazingly, the Mavericks had four games with 12 turnovers and one with 13.
PREDICTION: SHOOTING GUARD -- Strange that the West's two best teams almost waste their time starting two guys at a key position who merely set the tone defensively and then find a comfy spot on the bench for most of the game. DeShawn Stevenson and Thabo Sefolosha won't be on the floor during crunch time, instead giving way to Jason Terry and James Harden. While he's in, Sefolosha will be more productive. Edge -- Thunder.
RESULT -- Since neither is counted on for consistent scoring, I looked at the combined dirty work. Blocked shots+Charges Drawn+Rebounds+Steals+Assists+3-pointers. The five-game totals: Sefolosha 31, Stevenson 12.
PREDICTION: SMALL FORWARD -- We should see the best of Shawn Marion in this series. He's long, lanky and athletic, the perfect makeup to run in the open floor against the Thunder and to play defense on Kevin Durant. But even at his best, Marion can't stifle the two-time NBA scoring champ and his smooth, quick, long-distance shooting. Edge: Thunder.
RESULT -- After scoring 40 in Game 1 Durant never broke 30, averaging 28 but shooting only 7 of 27 from 3-point land. His shot selection was passive and unsuccessful at the end of series-changing Game 4. Marion was indeed at his best, especially in Game 5 when he kept Dallas close with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and a steal. He assisted Dirk's Game 5 dagger trey and his athleticism and tenacity kept alive an offensive rebound on the next possession that led to Nowitzki's series-clinching free throws with 13 seconds remaining.
PREDICTION: POWER FORWARD -- Serge Ibaka will be the first of a handful of defenders OKC will throw at Dirk Nowitzki, none of which will stop the Mavs' leader from a series averaging around 30 points. Edge: Mavericks.
RESULT -- Nick Collison actually gave Dirk fits with his physical defense, but the star still had an epic series. Nowitzki produced two 40+-point games, made 59 of 61 free throws, drove-and-drunked enough to keep OKC honest, hit crucial 3-pointers in each of the last two games and, sure enough, averaged 32.2 points.
PREDICTION: CENTER -- Kendrick Perkins brings a tough, often nasty defensive attitude to OKC's interior defense. But Tyson Chandler was third in the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year voting and is more skilled around the rim than any of the OKC bigs. Edge: Mavericks.
RESULT -- Chandler had a couple of physically imposing moments, which was more than enough to outshine Perkins, better known as the worst player in this series.
PREDICTION: BENCH -- The Thunder count on points and energy from sixth man Harden, who can pressure a defense on the wing in transition or from 3-point range. While Nick Collison will present Dirk with a different look defensively and Eric Maynor is more of a stabilizing point guard than Westbrook, OKC's reserves are relatively harmless. For Dallas, Terry has been its second-best player in the playoffs and hit a record-tying nine 3-pointers in the close-out game against L.A. Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea and even backup center Brendan Heywood have provided positive minutes. Edge: Mavericks.
RESULT -- While Harden won Game 2 with an array of amazing shots, he disappeared in both games in OKC. And Maynor inexplicably took -- and missed -- two crucial shots in the final minutes of Game 5. Terry wasn't great with only two 20-point games and Stojakovic went just 5 of 21 on 3-pointers, but Barea opened options with his relentless penetration and Heywood was a factor, scoring 16 points on a shocking 10-of-14 free-throw shooting the final two games.
PREDICTION: COACH -- Scotty Brooks was the NBA's Coach of the Year in 2010 and a former Maverick who played backup point guard to Jason Kidd in the mid-90s. Rick Carlisle has now taken three teams to the conference finals. Dallas' out-of-bounds set plays and late-game half-court execution is usually immaculate. Edge: Mavericks.
RESULT -- While Brooks' young team imploded and coughed up a 15-point lead in Game 4, Carlisle slowed Westbrook in Game 5 with a combination of Marion and zone defense that proved brilliant.
PREDICTION: INTANGIBLES -- While the Thunder and its top four under-22 players may be here a tad prematurely, the Mavericks have a decided experience edge and have been the NBA's best team in the playoffs at 8-2, including 5-0 at American Airlines Center. I think Dallas' biggest hurdle is shaking off the rust of an uncomfortable nine-day layoff in Game 1. Edge: Mavericks.
RESULT -- Dallas' experience and execution won it Games 3, 4 and 5, consistently getting off quality shots in hostile situations. The Thunder at times freaked out, settling for 1-on-1 plays on the perimeter and now has a playoff battle scar to show for it. As expected, poise beat panic.
PREDICTION -- Mavs' bandwagon chauffer Charles Barkley says the Mavs will win this series "and it won't be close." Of 30 personalities in the ESPN family of prognosticators, only seven -- including the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Randy Galloway -- are picking OKC. ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson are also picking Dallas. Van Gundy: "I do believe Dallas will eventually win the series. I think it'll be a very difficult series, though, because of Westbrook, Durant and their strength inside. But I just really like how Dallas is playing at both ends, if the layoff doesn't impact them too much." Jackson: "I think the layoff is going to be a key factor in both Game 1 and Game 2. I think it's going to be a great series, and it's going to be extremely tough to call, but if Oklahoma wins one of these first two games, I see them gaining some valuable confidence and they're really going to make it a great series, which will go all the way to 7." I just can't see this being an easy series. The Thunder have guys in Durant and Westbrook who can win a game all by themselves. And for what it may lack in late-game execution, OKC had the fifth-best free-throw shooting season in NBA history at almost 83 percent as a team. But in tight games in the closing minutes, I expect Dallas to operate more smoothly, efficiently and, ultimately, effectively. While the young Thunder are enjoying a drive-thru thrill ride, the grizzled Mavs are doggedly pursuing a long-term goal. Give me Mavs in seven.
RESULT -- The anticipated mismatches, game plans and trends were there, but the sum of their parts was 5, not 7.