After two disappointing, injury-plagued seasons, Dirk Nowitzki is experiencing somewhat of a personal renaissance. Meanwhile, a few hours north of Dallas, Kevin Durant is having what is very likely to be an MVP season. My, how things change within a matter of a few years. If you recall, it was only back in 2011 when a young Thunder squad sneaked into the Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks, following a grueling seven-gamer against the Memphis Grizzlies. In Game 1 of those Western finals, a still wet-behind-the-ears Durant exploded for 40 points, but it was Nowitzki who wouldn’t be denied, going for 48 points and a record 24-24 from the free throw line. His performance set the tone for the rest of the series, as Dallas eventually closed out OKC on a 3-0 run to clinch a Finals berth.
The following spring, OKC repaid the favor by sweeping the deconstructed defending champions in the first round. The sweep would mark the last games of consequence between the two teams, as Nowitzki’s nagging injuries, coupled with Dallas’ failure to rebuild after winning in 2011, kept them out of the playoffs in 2013. But something happened last summer. Missing the playoffs might not have been the worst thing for Dirk. After 12 consecutive trips to the playoffs and various German national team commitments, Dirk finally had an entire spring and summer off. And it’s showed this year.
Not only is Dirk back to averaging more than 20 points per game again (21.3, to be exact), he’s also on track to have the second-best shooting season of his career, flirting with the magical 50/40/90 Club (currently: 52.1%/39.1%/91.6%) — something he accomplished in his 2007 MVP season. He’s a big reason why Dallas is in the hunt for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and Tuesday night, he went up against a familiar foe: the last guy who knocked him out of the playoffs.
In their previous meeting, Dallas blew the doors off OKC — on the road, no less. Revenge was on OKC’s mind Tuesday night, as they’re trying to keep pace with conference-leading San Antonio. Durant logged 43 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists on an array of practically unguardable shots. Unfortunately, the guy on the other side still owns the league’s truly most-unguardable shot: the one-legged fade-away. The above video shows Durant doing Durant things to everyone, but there’s a lot of Dirk doing Dirk things to a hapless Durant, who had zero chance of stopping him. Dirk finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and a whopping 4 steals.
The final dagger, in front of a late-to-close-out Durant, is indicative of the problems OKC has faced in the absence of Thabo Sefolosha, their best perimeter defender. Their once stout defense has been a shell of its former self since he and Kendrick Perkins were sidelined with injuries. This isn’t to say should the two teams meet in the playoffs that OKC should be worried, as both Thabo and Perkins are expected back by then. But, for one night, it was awesome to watch two of the most unique talents in NBA history go at each other at least one more time, in a playoff-type atmosphere.
Also, apropros of nothing: