OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks wasn't buying counterpart Rick Carlisle's claims after Saturday's Game 1 of their first-round series that Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki was being held and grabbed without consequence.
After Oklahoma City's 99-98 comeback victory in which Nowitzki was twice stripped by a swarming Thunder defense in the final 90 seconds and Kevin Durant made an off-balance game-winner with 1.4 seconds to go, Carlisle said Thunder defenders "grab and hold" Nowitzki without being whistled.
Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka and center Kendrick Perkins combined for the majority of minutes on Nowitzki. Carlisle specified a play at the end of the first half when Nowitzki was called for an offensive foul as he tangled for position with Ibaka on the perimeter early in the shot clock. After a timeout, Ibaka made just the third 3-pointer of his three-year career to cut OKC's deficit in half, to 51-48 heading to the locker room.
"Might as well just go back to your quotes in 2011, he said the same thing," Brooks said Sunday, referring to last season's matchup in the Western Conference finals that Dallas won in five games. "They average 20 free throws a game and they shot (25). We average 27, we shot 20. If you're going to get into that I think you're taking away what NBA basketball is about. You play your game, you do it as hard as you can and you live with the results.
"You guys," Brooks said, directing his comments to the media, "can't be sucked into that. That's what he does."
Asked if he's concerned that the officiating crew in Monday night's Game 2 will pay more attention to physical defense being played on Nowitzki, Brooks said he is not.
"If anything," Brooks said, "I should be complaining. We only shot 20 free throws."
Perkins, who said he has the green light from Brooks to switch defensive assignments with Ibaka during the course of a game, defended Nowitzki in the closing minutes of Game 1. On two isolation plays in which Nowitzki tried to drive from the top of the circle, the Thunder's guards swarmed him as he put the ball on the floor, helping to create two critical turnovers as Oklahoma City rallied from a 94-87 deficit in the final 2:31.
Nowitzki still led the Mavs with 25 points, but on just 8-of-18 shooting after starting 2-of-9. He went to the free throw line 10 times, which was tied for the most in the game with Oklahoma City guard James Harden and was twice as many as afforded to Durant.
"I mean they average 20 free throws for the season and they shot (25) last night, so they shot (five) more free throws than us so it ain't really nothing to complain about," Perkins said. "We just tried to make him play in a crowd and be physical with him a little."
In last year's West finals, Nowitzki torched the 6-foot-10 Ibaka, as well as Nick Collison, averaging 32.2 points and 12.2 free throw attempts a game. The Thunder believe they are better equipped this season to put more defensive pressure on Nowitzki because Ibaka is an improved defender and Perkins is healthy and slimmed down, giving Brooks the confidence in his lateral movement to occasionally switch up and give Nowitzki a different look.
"Every game he was making tough shots, drawing fouls, getting to the line 15 times, 14 times, 24 times, come on, that's who he is, that's who they are," Brooks said. "They're a good team. We're a good team. We're going to fight each other and we're going to try to win the series the way we know how to play. There's nothing else to be said."
Carlisle, though, felt the Thunder defenders were being given too much latitude to hold and tug on Nowitzki, making it difficult for him to receive the entry pass or to create separation when he did have the ball.
"They're going to do things to try to disrupt his rhythm," Carlisle said after the game. "They're going to grab and hold. To me, a typical example is the play before the first half ends. He's getting grabbed and held, and they call a foul on Dirk because he's just reacting to all the contact. You know, that turns into a possession for them and they hit a 3. It's a big momentum play."
"I've seen this for four years," Carlisle continued. "Dirk Nowitzki's the hardest guy in the league to guard because at 22 feet, if you back up and take your hands off him, he's going to make the shot. So people grab and hold him all the time. I mean, all the time. He shows incredible restraint in those areas."
In each of the last two regular-season games against the Thunder, Carlisle was hit with technical fouls and lodged postgame complaints about the officiating. The league fined him $35,000 for kicking the basketball into the stands after becoming frustrated with a no-call in a February loss in Dallas. Mavs owner Mark Cuban drew a $75,000 fine for also ripping the officiating after the game.
Then in a 95-91 loss at Oklahoma City in March, Carlisle said he was in "disbelief" over the Thunder's 33-10 advantage in free throw attempts. Later in the locker room, veteran point guard Jason Kidd complained that the Mavs, and Nowitzki in particular, aren't looked upon as champions by the league's referees.
"We don't get the benefit of the whistle," Kidd said after that game. "I don't think we're looked upon as champions, but that's a whole other story. Dirk Nowitzki should live at the line if they would call it the way it's supposed to be. But, he doesn't."
After Game 1, Kidd said Dallas must make adjustments to make it easier for Nowitzki to operate.
"They've got three different bodies on him and so this is the playoffs, they're going to be physical and hold," Kidd said. "A lot of times the guy who reacts to the hits or holds is the one who gets called. We just have to free him up and keep him on the move. I think it's harder for those bigs to keep chasing him when he's on the move."
As for Nowitzki's thoughts on the grabbing and holding, he kept with his personal policy not to discuss the officiating.
"I always talk during the game a lot," Nowitzki said, referring to conversations with the referees. "My style is never to complain after the game. I won't do it now."