Bench play is key as OKC tries to keep season alive in Game 5
DALLAS -- A chance at redemption is at hand for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks: They are one win away from the team's first trip to the Finals since 2006. Here are five things to watch for in Wednesday night's Game 5:
Game 4 was about as brutal a loss as any of the Thunder players have ever had to swallow. After blowing a 15-point lead with less than five minutes to go in Game 3, Oklahoma City players said all the right things on Tuesday: "I'm just going to lay it on the line," said Kevin Durant. But if Dallas jumps out to an early lead (like it did in Game 3) will the Thunder be mentally tough enough to climb back into it?
Oklahoma City players continued to marvel at Nowitzki's spectacular 12-point fourth quarter in Game 4, with good reason. He has been a one-man wrecking ball throughout the playoffs, abusing LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and, now, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison. The Thunder have steadfastly refused to double-team anyone this postseason, and Durant hinted they would continue that strategy in Game 5 as the Thunder are wary of getting beat by a barrage of open three-pointers. They just have to hope Nowitzki doesn't have another 40-plus-point performance.
Durant was 6-of-8 on his attempts from within nine feet in Game 4, according to Hoopdata.com. When he was pushed outside of nine feet, he was 3-of-14. Dallas has done a superb job of bumping and grinding Durant off his spots, utilizing the strength of Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd to force Durant into difficult shots. Five of Durant's shots during an 0-for-6 stretch in the game's final 10 minutes were three-point attempts. Durant needs to do a better job of a) identifying where Dallas is loading up the defense early and b) not settling for deep shots. It wouldn't hurt for Durant to sell a few fouls, either. Both Nowitzki and Durant have been beat up throughout this series. The difference: Nowitzki has been to the free throw line 52 times, Durant 43.
The Thunder's 26 turnovers killed them in Game 4, with Durant (nine), Russell Westbrook (six) and James Harden (four) the primary culprits. It's amazing that the Thunder have advanced this far with an average of 15.6 turnovers per game (Dallas, by contrast, is averaging 12.7), and the unpredictable play of Westbrook has cost them in key situations. Taking care of the ball has to be top priority for Oklahoma City because the Mavs have been very good at capitalizing on its mistakes.
The team with the most productive bench has won every game this series. Dallas' reserves overwhelmed Oklahoma City in Game 4 (40-21), with the reliable Jason Terry (20 points) leading the charge. The Thunder need more out of Harden (seven points in 23 minutes), whose production is every bit as critical as Durant and Westbrook in a Thunder lineup starved for scoring. If Harden can play like he did in Game 2 (23 points), Oklahoma City will have a chance to send this series back home.