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Fran Blinebury

Kevin Durant and the Thunder don't plan to go down without a serious fight in Game 5.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Down to last straw, Thunder still keeping the faith

Posted May 25 2011 10:30AM

DALLAS -- This is why they call it a learning process. The Thunder have to learn how to get the license number of the truck that hit them next time.

"Our guys are very resilient," said coach Scott Brooks. "They're a group that battles every day. They're a group that believes in each other.

"Obviously, the odds are against us, but there's odds. When you have odds, you still have a chance. I know our guys. They're going to look at it as a chance to extend it and come back home for Game 6. We have to play great basketball, we have to do a lot of things well, but it's still possible.

"We have to muster enough energy...and then come back and just focus on one game. We have to win one game."

But the truth is it's not about energy, belief and resiliency or else the Thunder might already be packing their swim wear and sunglasses for South Beach and the NBA Finals.

What the Thunder need are cool heads and the cold, calculating hearts of IRS auditors if they're going to extend the Western Conference finals past Game 5 tonight at American Airlines Center.

It's not about all the things the young legs and the fresh faces can't do with the ball in their hands, because those are very few. It's about all the things they still haven't figured out how to do when the time gets short and the defenses start to squeeze like a vise, which is a considerably longer list:

• There is starting your offense at crunch time before there are just eight seconds left on the shot clock.

• There is running a basic play in a half-court offense that gets one of their scorers the ball going in the direction of the basket.

• There is convincing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that closing out games means driving to the hoop and drawing fouls by welcoming contact instead of avoiding it.

• There is teaching panicky young defenders that they can't commit fouls in the backcourt to keep sending a veteran team like the Mavs to the free-throw line to keep a comeback alive.

Even Dirk Nowitzki admitted the Mavs had to be "almost perfect" to pull off the 17-2 stretch over the final five minutes of regulation and he, more than anyone in the OKC locker room, knows what it feels like to experience the heartbreak of the playoffs with all of Dallas' playoff shortcomings through the years.

"Well, you know, I've obviously had my fair share of leads and lost them," Nowitzki said. "It's all part of the game. You know, it happens. It happens to the best teams in the league.

"The good things about us, we didn't cave in there in the fourth. We hung in there, kept battling, even though it didn't look good....I mean, it was almost over...If we mess up one more time or give up one more offensive rebound, that would have been the game. So we couldn't afford any mistakes down the stretch."

Meanwhile the Thunder strung mistakes together like they were a freight train.

The team that dominated the backboards 55-33 all night long couldn't get one more attempt on the offensive glass that would have closed out the game. The Thunder could manage only two free throws in the final five minutes of regulation and not a single trip to the line in overtime.

"Personally I'd like a day of rest, because I'm tired," said Thunder forward Nick Collison. "But the rest of these guys aren't tired. They're young. I think it is good to get a bad game out of your system and come right back quick and play again.

"We've got a shot to play and we have to look at it like that. I don't think it's hard get up for the game. It may sound simple, but what else have we got to do? There are 26 other teams that aren't playing right now."

Durant, who scored 10 points in the first four minutes of Game 4 and then was smothered the rest of the way, admitted to being stung by the loss but vowed to find a way to overcome the disappointment.

"Terrible. Terrible," he said. "It's a bad feeling, but we've got faith. I've got faith. It was a tough pill to swallow (Monday) night at home. I didn't talk to nobody, my mom, my grandma. I usually have a good time with them. It was tough, but I've got faith. I'm just going to lay it all on the line."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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