Can the free throw line make or break the Dallas Mavericks in their first-round series?
No team scored more points per game at the free throw line this season than the Oklahoma City Thunder and only the Denver Nuggets got there more. The Thunder averaged 26.4 free throws a game during the regular season and 21.3 points. In four games against the Mavs this season, the Thunder was even more prolific from the charity stripe, averaging a whopping 31.0 attempts and 24.3 points a game.
The Thunder shot 48 more free throws than the Mavs in the four game and outscored them 97-66. Oklahoma City's total margin of victory in three wins over Dallas this season was 15 points, with two games decided by two and four points.
"It’s tough. They do it a lot of different ways," said Rick Carlisle, referring to the Thunder's proclivity for drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. "They do it in transition, they do it off one-on-one, they do it on movement. It’s something we’ve got to be aware of. They’re a hard team to contain. They’re as talented as any team in basketball. It’s definitely an emphasis."
In the four games, Kevin Durant is 28-of-38 from the free throw line; Russell Westbrook is 25-of-32; Dirk Nowitzki is 22-of-23. In last season's Game 1 of the West finals, Nowitzki was 24-of-24 from the line.
The Thunder shot no fewer than 26 free throws and in three of the games they took 32 or 33 attempts. Yet, the only wild disparity between OKC's and Dallas' free throw attempts came in the final meeting at Oklahoma City when the Thunder went 29-of-33 compared to the Mavs' 10-of-10.
After the game, Carlisle ripped the officials for what he believed was a phantom call against Ian Mahinmi late in a close game. Jason Kidd would then say that the Mavs don't get calls like champs should.
But Dallas doesn't have much of a leg to stand on if it is going to complain about matching the Thunder free throw for free throw. While OKC ranks at the top of the league in attempts and made free throws, the Mavs rank 26th in attempts per game at 20.2 and 22nd in made free throws at 15.6.
If the Mavs want to keep the free throw count closer, they're going to have to do a better job being aggressive offensively and figuring out a way defensively to guard explosive offensive players without fouling.
"They’re very aggressive, so team defense is imperative and important," said Vince Carter, who splits time between shooting guard and small forward and could see time guarding Westbrook and Durant. "I think more than anything, each guy is going to have to do their job. In this league you can’t guard anybody one-on-one. So I think its going to be a collective effort. Team defense is going to be very important, and transition defense."