DALLAS – Dirk Nowitzki delivered a shooting masterclass for the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, scoring 48 points to spark a 121-112 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game One of the Western Conference finals.
The German also notched an NBA playoff record of 24-for-24 free throws as part of an incredible performance from the lanky power-forward, who continued to display the impressive form that helped sweep the Los Angeles Lakers in the previous round.
Despite getting a 40-point performance of their own from Kevin Durant, the Thunder struggled to contain Nowitzki and were punished for their persistent fouling of the 32-year-old from Wurzburg.
Often guilty of falling into mismatches pitting smaller players against the 7ft (2.13m) Nowitzki, Oklahoma City will need to improve their tactics of how to counter the German, who amassed his tally with only 15 attempted shots.
"He is so good that in efforts to prevent him, he draws a lot of fouls and then he scores 24-of-24 free throws. There are very few guys in this league that can do that, unfortunately one of them is Kevin Durant," Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters.
"They will adjust, they will have to do what they have to do, but what it will be I don't know," he added.
There were no signs of rustiness from the Mavericks, who enjoyed a nine-day break after dispatching the Lakers, with Dallas dominant from the tipoff.
Dallas led 55-48 at halftime with Nowitzki picking up 21 points, including 10 of his first 11 shots, but he truly dominated the third quarter by scoring 17 points as the Mavericks looked set to run away with the game.
"We have to do a better job of guarding him and we will do. He is a great player, one of the best I've ever seen at that position offensively," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks lamented.
But what had been a 16 point-lead was reduced to five in the fourth quarter as the Thunder fought back into contention.
Dallas, however, sealed the win with a three-point effort from Jason Terry and then, appropriately, two more free throws from Nowitzki.
"We have had an incredible ability to bounce back and we will do that again and work on what we have to work on," Brooks added.
Game Two is in Dallas on Thursday with the series winner going on to face either the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat in the NBA finals. The Bulls lead the Eastern Conference finals 1-0.