DALLAS _ The old men weren’t supposed to be able to stay up with the younger kids. Especially since the old men had been lounging around for eight days with nothing to do since sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers on May 8.
At least that was the conventional wisdom.
But the aging Dallas Mavericks shot down that old age notion en route to overpowering the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder, 121-112, Tuesday night at American Airlines Center in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki turned back the clock and busted loose for 48 points for the Mavs. Those were the most points Nowitzki scored in a playoff game since he tagged Phoenix for 50 points on June 1, 2006 in the Western Conference Finals.
Meanwhile, Jason Terry outscored the entire OKC bench, 24-22. And JJ Barea proved that just because Kobe Bryant said he doesn’t look like a basketball player doesn’t mean he can’t hoop with the best of them.
Barea came off the bench to pour in 21 points – one more than the Thunder’s all-everything point guard, Russell Westbrook, who was only 3-of-15 from the field and had more turnovers (four) than assists (three).
Other than some early anxious moments and four dunks by Serge Ibaka in the fourth quarter, the Mavs were in control of this game against their Red River rivals. And it was mainly because Nowitzki was able to convert 12-of-15 baskets and make an NBA playoff record 24 consecutive free throws.
“I was really looking to shoot early and really was able to get my rhythm,’’ Nowitzki said. “I made the first couple of shots and that is always big for a shooter, and after that I just kept attacking.
“My teammates were feeding me the ball and we got some matchups with smaller guys and were able to take advantage.’’
At least six Thunder players took turns attempting to guard Nowitzki, to no avail. It was a game that possibly will silence Nowitzki’s critics.
“Tremendous,’’ Terry said of Nowitzki. “He saw matchups that he liked and he was knocking down his shots early, and then you try to get aggressive defensively on him and then you put him on the free throw line.’’
The Mavs shot 53.4 percent from the field and were 34-of-36 from the free throw line. It was the kind of game they needed to shake off the cobwebs from their eight-day vacation.
“I wasn’t worried about the rest,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you go (eight) days without playing a game, I worry about concentration slippage in some areas.
“We had a little bit of that and we’re going to have to get that cleaned up for Game 2.’’
OKC coach Scott Brooks all but admitted his team had no answers for Nowitzki, whose 21 points helped provide the Mavs with a 55-48 lead at the half.
“He’s been doing it for many years against a lot of great players,’’ Brooks said. “He had good rhythm, he got off to a good start, he was making shots.
“We’ve got to do a better job guarding him, but we will make some adjustments. He’s one of the best players I’ve seen at that position.’’
When Nowitzki wasn’t picking the Thunder apart, Terry stepped in and stuck the dagger in OKC’s heart with a three-pointer that put Dallas ahead 119-110 with 28.9 seconds left.
“This was a big game for us and we needed to win this one after the long layoff,’’ said Terry, who was 8-of-16 from the field. “People wanted to know how we were going to respond, and we started off a little slow.
“And then in the fourth quarter it caught up with us a little bit and we had a chance to put them away in the fourth quarter. But our defense let us down a little bit, so we’re going to watch the film.’’
Kevin Durant scored 40 points on 10-of-18 shots for the Thunder. He was 18 of 19 from the free throw line as free throws – the Thunder were 37-of-43 from the line – kept OKC within striking distance of the Mavs.
Westbrook was 14-of-18 from the line, and the parade to the charity stripe infuriated Carlisle.
“We’re going to have to quit fouling them as much, obviously,’’ he said. “This series is in large part going to be about the free throw line.
“When Durant and Westbrook get there a lot, they win. So we were fortunate tonight.’’
Mavs forward Shawn Marion also was fortunate. Marion’s nose was bleeding and assumed broken when it collided with one of the elbows that belong to Thunder center Kendrick Perkins late in the second quarter.
Carlisle came on the court to check on Marion and received a technical foul when he shouted something at referee Zach Zarba.
After that, Marion stayed in the game and the Mavs immediately went on a 16-1 run to go up 52-46.
“Yeah, it was accidental, it happens,’’ Marion said of Perkins’ stray elbow. “It wasn’t on purpose -- not at all.
“We were trying to scramble and get away. . .I got a good one.’’
X-rays taken on Marion’s nose were negative.
The jubilant Mavs were happy that were able to get their feet wet again after the long layoff and win their seventh straight game.
“We're a good team if everybody is playing well and attacking from all angles,’’ Nowitzki said. “We’re tough to beat and that’s how we’ve been winning all season long.
“We got to play solid defense and rebound the ball. And offensively share the ball, make shots and play off each other.’’
-- Dwain Price
Follow me on Twitter