Dallas used a devastating opening quarter, a 34-minute spell with a double-digit lead, and almost historic defense of the 3-point line to claim a 2-1 series lead over Oklahoma City, taking back home-court advantage in the Western finals.
The Mavs simply had more contributors, led by Jason Kidd, who’s getting harder to articulate as his career progresses. He’s either the master of controlling games without shooting, a sheer basketball android in terms of knowledge and IQ, dripping with leadership and vision; or, his deficiencies and age make for little more than a vague reminder of those fast-breaking days as the League’s best point. Either way, there was little denying his impact in this one: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals, a tidy output matched only by Shawn Marion, another veteran, in terms of difference-making. Marion defended Kevin Durant with vigor, filled the lanes for easy scores, and led Dallas with a line (18 points, 4 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks) that’s slightly watered down to the ones he produced regularly from, say, 2003 to 2007, but highly valued nonetheless.
All eyes of course found themselves on the contradicting Russell Westbrook. He was the victim of both a gameless NBA day following his Game 2 benching (leaving nothing else for the mainstream to dissect) and his own accelerated growth; growth that can give way to heightened expectations for a 22-year old still learning a position management chose for him but also be tainted with deserved criticism for obviously poor on-floor choices. He was typically maddening and thrilling: 30 points, 14 trips to the line, an inspired stretch that pumped life into his team, but also 7 turnovers and forced action. Durant wasn’t much better, with a messy 24 points, missing all 8 of his threes while being harassed by the suddenly-resurgent Marion.
Oklahoma City missed an opportunity, and not in the literal sense of surrendering home court. They won the battle of the boards and held Nowitzki to single-digits through three. But their lethargic start, horrible 3-point shooting (1-17), and poor bench (save for Nick Collison)—that same bench that practically won them the prior game—made the hill too steep.
Game 4, as it usually does, will let us know which direction we’re headed: Dallas going home to clinch, or a wide-open 3-game series. —Todd Spehr