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Sekou Smith

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Serge Ibaka (left) and Dirk Nowitzki both came up big in OKC's Game 1 win.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

After killer loss in OKC, Mavs lean on history, confidence


Posted Apr 30 2012 11:44AM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Dallas Mavericks can't help themselves if they believe even when others do not. A championship run has a way of breeding confidence that, if you haven't experienced it for yourself, you simply cannot comprehend.

So when Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle gives you that look and says, "We're going to keep coming at these guys. Trust me, we're going to keep coming at them," the Oklahoma City Thunder know that he means what he says.

The Mavericks controlled the action for all but the final seconds of their Game 1 loss to the Thunder. They are convinced, and perhaps rightly so, that they have the emotional and mental edge in this series heading into Game 2 Monday night (9:30 ET, TNT) at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Even though they didn't finish the deal Saturday night, the Mavericks have the Thunder worried that this series is going to be a continuation of the Western Conference finals last year, when the Mavericks imposed their will and turned what had the makings of an epic seven-game series into five games of summer schooling for their less-experienced opponents.

As a group, the Oklahoma City team has matured considerably since then. But the Mavericks act like a team that doesn't care about that or the fact the Thunder are the No. 2 seed and the Mavs No. 7.

"We have a tough-minded team," Carlisle said. "We have a locker room full of champions and these guys have big heart. We put ourselves in a strong position [Saturday night] and we didn't get it done. It's on us. It's on us. But we will not be deterred. We're going to keep coming back at these guys. That's what we have to do."

Confidence alone won't get the Mavericks through this series. They are playing with a different cast than the one that knocked the Thunder out last season. The most notable absentees from their championship run are J.J. Barea (now with the Timberwolves), DeShawn Stevenson (the Nets) and defensive rock Tyson Chandler (now with the Knicks).

And the Thunder aren't exactly doubting themselves after their Game 1 win. They aren't nearly as timid or uncertain of themselves as their pre-Kevin Durant game-winner body language would suggest. In fact, the fact that they kept the game as close as they did with the three-time scoring champ struggling only bolsters their belief in themselves.

"We're a team that learns from our mistakes and we've been through a lot," Durant said. "We've got guys that are confident that the games are not over until the buzzer sounds. We were down seven with about two minutes to go and we just kept fighting on the defense end, got a few steals and got some run-outs. We've got a lot of scorers on this team and just do a great job playing together."

Give the Thunder some credit for knowing exactly what they were in for in this series. When the playoff draw came up, all they had to do was take a quick glance at their offensive shortcomings of a year ago. The Mavericks have a scheme and personnel perfectly suited to deal with what the Thunder do best, so that should have alerted everyone in the state that there would be some headaches involved with a rematch.

"We knew going into this series it was going to be tough," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "It's going to be a tough series, every game. Game 2 is going to be tougher. We understood that. That's how we play. We play very good basketball. We knew there going to be a lot of plays that had to be made on both ends to get this win."

Without either team having a real tactical advantage, each and every game in this series comes down to whose stars tip the scales at crunch time. Durant and Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki did their part, going back and forth at the end of the Game 1, thanks largely to the play of their supporting casts.

As big as Durant's shot was, Serge Ibaka's work throughout the game -- and especially down the stretch -- is what helped give the Thunder the boost they needed to finish the comeback. He had 22 points (making nine of his 12 shots), six rebounds and five blocks.

He seemed to be in the right place at the right time the entire night, on both ends of the floor. Had Durant's game-winner bounced off the rim in the opposite direction, Ibaka was in perfect position for what would have been a potential game-winning tip in.

"Just focus. Just be ready," Ibaka told the Oklahoman. "I know it's playoff. I know the other team, they know our best scoring is Kevin and Russ [Westbrook] and James [Harden]. Just be ready to make the big step."

The Mavericks know what he's talking about. Especially after that difficult Game 1 loss.

"If there is a team that can recover from it," Nowitzki said after the Game 1 loss, "it's an experienced one."

And a confident one.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com'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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