- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Mavericks might wonder why the whistles didn’t blow a lot more often during Game 3, but they have an immense amount of respect for physical Thunder forward Nick Collison’s defensive work against Dirk Nowitzki.
Give Collison a lot of credit for Nowitzki’s Game 3 struggles. Collison played 24 minutes off the bench and was the primary defender during Dirk’s 7-of-21 shooting, seven-turnover off night.
“Very aggressive. Very aggressive,” Carlisle said Sunday of Collison. “Look, I’m not going to get into a thing about what’s legal and not legal. He’s a hell of a player and he’s making a hell of an effort. We’ve got to make some adjustments to make it tough on him.”
Carlisle had already raised the issue of whether Collison had defended within “legal limits” after Game 3, when Nowitzki attempted only three free throws. Oklahoma City was called for only two fouls against Nowitzki on Saturday night, a stark contrast to the 16-foul total in Game 1, when Nowitzki set an NBA record by making 24 free throws without a miss.
However, Carlisle also raved about Collison on Saturday night, mentioning that he also did an outstanding job against Memphis power forward Zach Randolph in the previous round.
“When they really needed to guard [Randolph], he guarded him one-on-one,” Carlisle said. “It’s phenomenal. You’re talking about a guy that’s one of the best post defenders really in basketball. He’s proven that in three playoff series now.”
It has become clear that Collison is the only Oklahoma City defender who has a chance to slow down Dirk.
Not that Nowitzki can’t score against Collison. According to NBA.com’s StatsCube, Nowitzki is averaging 25.8 points per 36 minutes on 62 percent shooting against Collison this series.
But Dirk is averaging 31.6 points per 36 minutes when Collison is on the bench despite shooting a significantly lower percentage (48). The difference is in the free throw disparity. Nowitzki averages 16.6 free throws per 36 minutes when Collison is on the bench and only 4.8 with Collison on the floor.
Dirk noted that he didn’t get calls going to the basket in Game 3, but he’s not whining about Collison’s defense. He gives credit where it’s due.
“You saw how he plays,” said Nowitzki, who mentioned Collison’s physical nature as his best attribute. “It’s nothing new the last [several] years. He battled Z-Bo great the last round. Z-Bo is probably the best low-post scorer we have in the game right now and [Collison] tried to front him some and mixed up his coverages. He’s a smart and good defender with a hard nose. He plays hard.”