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NBA Playoffs: Thunder should be optimistic, they were in it

Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Durant drives ball past Dallas Mavericks small forward Marion in Dallas

Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (R) drives the ball past Dallas Mavericks small forward Shawn Marion in the first quarter during Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Final basketball playoffs in Dallas, Texas May 17, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Sharp (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

REUTERS

It was close.

After Kevin Durant drained two free throws it was a five-point Mavericks lead with 4:18 left. Get a stop, knock down a shot and it’s a one possession game.

Tuesday’s Dallas win didn’t feel close — Dirk Nowitzki went off, the Mavs got 53 points from its bench and with each big shot it felt like the Mavs were doing to the Thunder what they did to the Lakers in Game 4.

Except they didn’t. And that is the big positive the Thunder come out of Game 1 with — Dallas played a nearly perfect game for it and Oklahoma City still had a shot in the end. There are plenty of adjustments to make, but the Thunder were in it despite all the problems ad that has to make them feel good.

Because Oklahoma City can play better.

“I could bet my whole house that Russell Westbrook won’t go 3-15 again,” Kevin Durant said after the game.

Actually, that might be a concern — in three meetings this season Westbrook averaged just 14.3 points on 32 percent shooting and hit no threes. (His season average was 21.9 points on 44 percent shooting.) Westbrook has yet to have a good game this season against Dallas and that is starting to look like a trend, not a fluke.

But there are things the Thunder can do. They might want to make it harder for Nowitzki to get the ball 18 feet out on the right baseline, for one. He kind of likes that spot. The Thunder also need to get out in transition more, force turnovers and run on every miss. Even in the half court more they need to get inside and not settle for jumpers (especially against the zone Dallas threw out in spots).

Oklahoma City did learn that Dallas has no good answer for defending Kevin Durant. OKC has real advantages in terms of athleticism they need to exploit. They need to use those on the defensive end to contest better — Dallas is a very good jump shooting team, you can’t think just protecting the paint is enough. The Lakers did a nice job protecting the paint for long stretches, see where it got them. You have to make it harder on their shooters.

Oklahoma City just needs to be a little better at it — they were already close.