Well, we now know what Dirk Nowitzki was up to during Dallas' eight-day game-less stretch between the Western Conference semifinals and the Western Conference finals. Apparently our man was perfecting what might be the prettiest-looking jump shot in NBA history.
His set-shot, too, as Nowitzki drained an NBA playoff record 24 straight free throws. The Dallas Mavericks dumped the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night by a 121-112 score in the first game of the Western branch of the NBA's final four, and Dirk dropped 48 points while missing just three of 15 attempts from the field. The 32-year old All-Star took on all Thunder comers on his way to those 48 points, bringing rain as jumper after jumper dropped down from the Dallas rafters, and Oklahoma City could only marvel in return.
In fairness, the Thunder did a bit more than marvel. Just two days after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in a strenuous seven-game series that featured 356 minutes of play (read: four overtimes), the Thunder more than held their own against the higher-seeded Mavericks. Russell Westbrook constantly attacked the paint in the first half on his way to a 14-18 mark from the free throw line, and Kevin Durant nearly matched his Dallas doppelganger with 40 points of his own and 18 free throw makes. Oklahoma City just didn't have an answer for Nowitzki. They haven't been alone in that regard this year.
The Thunder weren't immune to the same sort of screen and roll attack that doomed the Los Angeles Lakers in their bid to repeat as NBA champions a week and a half ago. Jose Juan Barea seemed unstoppable as he drove below the free throw line time and time again, finishing with 21 points off the bench. And as is usually the case, Jason Terry warmed to the national TV cameras and came up with 24 points of his own. As it was when the Mavericks last made the Western Conference finals in 2006, Dirk had help.
But more importantly, Dallas had Dirk. He was the team's constant, scoring at will and making each possession count. He had more blocks (four) than three point attempts (zero), as Dallas put up an astonishing 133 points per 100 possessions (usually around 112 will lead the league) against an Oklahoma City Thunder squad that can appear dominant defensively at times.
The Dallas crowd also chanted "MVP," rather loudly, during most of Dirk's attempts. Nowitzki missed out on the award this year as Chicago's Derrick Rose won it, coming in sixth and well behind the fifth-placed Kevin Durant in the voting. But as he's averaged 28.5 points per game with Dallas racking up a 9-2 playoff record against Portland, Los Angeles, and now Oklahoma City, you'd have a hard time arguing against Nowitzki as this postseason's most valuable player.