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Sekou Smith

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki hit fadeaway after fallaway to score 12 of his 40 points in the final 4:34 of regulation.
Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Mavericks' impressive comeback puts Thunder on the ropes

Posted May 24 2011 1:52AM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Shawn Marion glanced up at the rafters. He heard the crowd roaring and he felt the ground beneath his feet vibrating as Thunder fans screamed in unison with their team up 15 points with five minutes to play and victory all but a foregone conclusion.

Kevin Durant had just drained a 3-pointer and then turned to the Thunder bench and wrapped both hands around his waist, Aaron Rodgers' championship belt pose and all, with 5:06 to play.

The party was on and the series was back to even at two games each and for a moment, albeit a brief one, these Mavericks were right back where they started in this series a week ago.

But what looked like the end to the Thunder was only the beginning for Marion and the Mavericks, who staged a playoff comeback for the ages in the final five stunning minutes of regulation and five more surreal minutes of overtime before a sellout crowd at Oklahoma City Arena.

The Mavericks didn't just rally for a 112-105 Game 4 win in epic fashion, they stole the hearts, minds and souls of the Thunder with this one, shocking themselves as much as anyone with the championship-caliber mettle they showed down the stretch, taking a 3-1 lead in this series and moving one step closer to their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2006.

"I don't know, I don't know what they were doing," said Marion, who was locked in an individual battle with the NBA scoring champ all night and came up with a huge block of a Durant 30-footer with 1.9 seconds to play in a tie game at the end of regulation time. "I don't care what they were doing. We did what we had to do. It's not about them, it's about us. It's about us going out there and maintaining our focus and going out there and closing out a game the best way we know how. And that's it."

That was hardly it.

The Mavericks didn't take their first lead until overtime. And that was after Dirk Nowitzki plowed through the Thunder defense for 12 fourth-quarter points, 12 of his game-high 40, to bring the Mavericks all the way back.

His free throws seconds into the overtime period gave the Mavericks their first lead, the only one they needed as it turned out.

A Jason Terry jumper, a Jason Kidd 3-point dagger, two free throws from each of them and a slew of defensive stops later, the Mavericks' 17-4 finish kick was complete.

"I've been on the other side of that before, too many times, so I know how it feels" Terry said. "But we relied on our faith in each other and pulled it out. When you believe like that, anything can happen. Like I said, it was about keeping the faith."

How else do you explain a game where you trail almost the entire way, get outrebounded by 22, give up 20 offensive boards and shoot just 8-for-25 from beyond the 3-point line and still find a way to win?

Much of it was the young Thunder crumbling under the pressure of trying to hold that lead without being able to manufacture so much as one decent half-court possession in the final 10 minutes.

But that would cheapen the effort from the Mavericks, who took this game every bit as much as the Thunder gave it away.

"Five minutes is a long time," Terry said of the deficit they faced late in regulation. "I don't care who you are, you have to play that final five minutes. You have to win the game. For us it was like, 'what do we have to lose?' We can go home with the series tied at 2-2 or we can make run at this team, see if they hold up and maybe go home 3-1. That's what our mentality was."

It always helps to have Nowitzki to lean on late. But even he seemed emotionally drained once overtime began, no doubt the result of the physical and emotional roller coaster that was this 53 minutes of non-stop action.

That final and frantic five minutes of regulation, however, will go down as one of his favorite stretches of all time.

"I don't know," Nowitzki said, "we're just a veteran team trying to play off each other. We just ran [up and] down, we free-flowed. I don't even remember calling a play the last couple of minutes. We just ran down and pick-and-rolled and free-flowed it."

At this stage of the season for these Mavericks, it's whatever it takes. They've faced every situation possible in this postseason and seem to rise up to the magnitude of the moment each and every time.

They lost a 23-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 4 in Portland in the first round and bounced back to win two straight games to finish the Trail Blazers off.

They won back-to-back games in Los Angeles to start the conference semifinals and then finished the Lakers off in a sweep, using a Game 4 demolition of the Lakers to stake their claim to the conference finals.

Then they stumbled in Game 2 against the Thunder at home, surrendering home court advantage, only to bounce back and win two straight here before one of the most hostile and raucous places to play anywhere.

"I've been saying it all season and I'm going to keep saying it," Marion said. "We're a resilient team, we're a special team and we believe in each other. We're going to keep on doing what we do until the end. And we're not done yet.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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