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April 29, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Key Switch

by Kevin Pelton

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at Oklahoma City 99, Dallas 98 (Oklahoma City leads 1-0)
Pace: 89.7
Offensive Ratings: Oklahoma City 111.1, Dallas 108.6

With 2:31 left to play, the Dallas Mavericks looked poised to steal the opening game of their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road. After a Dirk Nowitzki jumper, the Mavericks led by seven, but the next possession proved a turning point. As the Thunder came back downcourt, Dallas appeared to shift out of a zone defense in favor of man-to-man down the stretch. On the other end, Scott Brooks made the night's most crucial adjustment, moving Kendrick Perkins on Nowitzki for the next Mavericks possession.

Over the remaining 151 seconds, the Thunder would outscore Dallas 12-4 to rally for the victory. Oklahoma City's late-game offense was better for a couple of reasons. First, the Thunder generated two easy buckets in transition--one after a Nowitzki turnover and the other an old-fashioned fast break. There's no rule prohibiting teams from running in the last five minutes of close games, though it often seems that way.

The other difference for the Oklahoma City offense was Durant's willingness and ability to attack off the dribble rather than settling for jumpers. Brooks helped him out by adding some new wrinkles to the Thunder's playcalls. The best of these was a play in the final minute out of a "horns" set where Perkins screened for Durant as he caught the ball after a pick-and-roll led by Russell Westbrook. Taking advantage of a monstrous, moving screen by Perkins, Durant drove the lane, drew help and dished to Serge Ibaka for a dunk and the foul, giving Oklahoma City the lead.

The game-winning bucket was nothing particularly exotic, however. Durant actually drew a worse matchup by getting a screen from Perkins because the Mavericks had previously switched an off-ball screen on the inbound pass. The second screen allowed Dallas to switch stopper Shawn Marion back on Durant. Marion did his best to force a difficult shot, but give credit to Durant for trying to make a play off the dribble rather than shooting a three-pointer in a situation where the Thunder needed two points (a common issue for Durant). Add in a tremendously lucky bounce and Oklahoma City was a winner and Durant the hero.

On the other end, Nowitzki riddled the Thunder with nine consecutive Mavericks points over a span of less than two minutes, leading Brooks to make the switch. On paper, Perkins makes little sense as a Nowitzki stopper because he sacrifices quickness, but he did an outstanding job of moving his feet and using his hands to help force Nowitzki into a pair of turnovers in the last minute and a half. Nowitzki did draw a foul and hit the go-ahead free throws before Durant's game-winner, but those were his only points in four possessions used against Perkins.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Playoff Prospectus (04/29)
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Playoff Prospectus (04/30)
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Premium Article The Difference Between... (04/30)

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