Serge Ibaka learned from Game 1
DALLAS -- Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, the soft-spoken 22-year-old from the Republic of Congo, said Wednesday that he considered Game 1 of the Western Conference finals to be his classroom and Dirk Nowitzki his teacher.
"I learned a lot last game," Ibaka, whose English is improving but still a little rough, said of the Mavs' 121-112 victory. "For me, this is my first time to play against Dirk and he gets 48. I can see this gives me like class, a lesson. So, I have my lesson already, so I will be ready for the next game."
The Dallas Mavericks' All-Star forward is playing at an MVP level this postseason and he certainly took Ibaka, the prime defender among seven the Thunder desperately threw on perhaps the most unique 7-footer in the league, to school.
Nowitzki scored 30 of his 48 points on either made baskets or free throws against the 6-foot-10 Ibaka, who was left on the majority of possessions to deal with Nowitzki without the aid of a double-team for fear of leaving the Mavs' dangerous shooters open at the 3-point arc.
Ibaka often had good position on Nowitzki, but he was helpless to stop Nowitzki from facing up, jab-stepping and shooting a fallaway or step-back jumper over him. Ibaka fouled Nowitzki five times as the postseason's third-leading scorer (28.5 points per game) drew 16 fouls in all and went to the free throw line 24 times, setting an NBA record by making all of them.
"Sometimes when you do some bad defense and you know that, 'Ah, I did bad, ah man.' I was feeling I was there," Ibaka said. "He made some tough shots, so I was saying to myself, 'I'm just going to keep playing because that is something you can't do nothing with.' He's shooting like that, I just say keep playing, keep playing. He was hot. I was thinking he won't make that shot every night, so I just keep playing."
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins suggested help will be on the way for Game 2. Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said his team must do a better job of making it difficult for Nowitzki to receive the ball in his comfort zone on the right wing. Nowitzki made 12 of 15 shots.
"One thing we can't do is leave guys on an island by themselves guarding Dirk Nowitzki, a future Hall of Famer, and expect one guy to stop him," Perkins said. "We've got to figure something out. We've got to at least show help or dig and get back. We're going to figure something out once we watch film, but it's definitely going to be a different game tomorrow."
Brooks didn't provide any strategic insight for Game 2, but he reiterated the potential risk of being hurt by the 3-pointer when doubling Nowitzki.
Nowitzki, who has scored 95 points in 92 minutes against the Thunder in the regular season and Tuesday's Game 1, said he won't be surprised by multiple adjustments throughout Game 2.
"Whatever comes comes," Nowitzki said. "I'm not really expecting anything. I'm going to go in there and try to attack like I always do and when they come I think we all have confidence in our shooting ability ... Whatever they give me or the team we've got to be able to attack and I think there's nothing really I haven't seen in my 13 years. They might double-team, they might bring the center over and flood the strong side, but whatever we've got to be ready to attack.
As for Ibaka, he said he's eager to try again even if it means Nowitzki takes him back to class.
"The next game I will go out there and Coach will be aggressive with me and do all those things," Ibaka said. "If he's hot the next game, he's hot, I can't stop that, you know? It was a great experience. My first game, he gave me a good lesson, so now I have my lesson ready."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavs for ESPNDallas.com.