Posted May 3 2012 10:48AM
Mavericks guard Jason Terry has never needed an invitation to stir the pot.
He apparently couldn't resist Wednesday, leaving the assembled media with a neat, two-sentence summation of the defending champion Dallas Mavericks' predicament heading into tonight's Game 3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center.
"Game 3 is like Game 7," Terry said as he exited the premises. "Thank you very much."
If only it were that simple.
The Mavericks are facing the added pressure of having to defend their home floor against a Thunder team that was one of the league's three best on the road during the regular season. The Thunder's 21-12 road record ranked behind only the Chicago Bulls (24-9) and San Antonio Spurs (22-11). They were the only three teams in the league to win more than 19 and only five teams won more than 15 road games.
The Mavericks know all about that added pressure, having used the same pressure to their advantage last season when they swept the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. They were relentless in their attack of the defending world champions, at the time, snatching home court advantage away from a Lakers team that never recovered from that initial shock.
Had they been able to close out the Thunder in either Game 1 or Game 2 at Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Mavs would have come home working with the same tool that carried them through to The Finals last year.
The Mavericks won the first-round series against Portland with a comeback win in Game 6 at the Rose Garden, shocked the Lakers in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles before finishing them off in four, broke the Thunder in the conference finals with a crucial overtime win in Game 4 on the road, won Game 2 of The Finals in Miami and then clinched the Larry O'Brien trophy with another win at American Airlines Arena in Game 6.
"Last year, coming down the stretch we always knew we'd find a way to win," said Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki. "We'd either get the big stop or get the big shot, get to the line or whatever we needed to happen to get the win and we did. And this year, for some reason, it hasn't happened. And that's been frustrating."
That inability to finish in those two games (they had late leads in both contests but left for home having lost them by a combined four points) is why the Mavericks are facing the very fate Terry suggested.
Lose Game 3 at home and the no-way-out feeling tightens around the entire franchise. No team has ever come back from a 3-0 hole to win a series. Win this bounce back game, though, and it's business as usual with the team needing only to, as Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle put it after Game 2, "hold serve at home" the same way the Thunder did.
But they know it won't be easy. Carlisle was quick to point out that being at home has its advantages, yet it guarantees nothing.
And this is not the fragile Thunder team the Mavericks stepped over in the Western Conference finals last season.
This is a fearless bunch with two of the league's best players on their side in three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant and All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook. And Durant has yet to find his groove in the series, even though his jumper with 1.5 seconds to play sealed the Game 1 win.
"They have another year under their belt and they have some of the most talented players in the world on their team," Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd said. "They're growing and they are growing in the right direction. And they are a very talented team."
They are also a team that relishes the opportunity to go on the road and silence the crowd, the same way the Mavericks do.
"The last two (actually three) years we've been a good road team," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Our guys love playing on the road. It takes mental toughness, there's no question. You're not liked and we're not going to be liked wherever we go. Our guys, they bring energy wherever we play.
"It's always fun to be on the road. You're together as a group. You're on the bus together, in the hotel together, everything is right there. We always have each other's back and I kind of like the spirit of our team when we're on the road."
No one knows for sure if that spirit will be enough to carry the Thunder or not. They won those two games at home but they did so under considerable pressure from the Mavericks. Durant shot just 15-for-44 from the floor combined. They did not play their best basketball, by most any measure.
That could also explain why some of the Mavericks, not necessarily Terry, are a bit wary of the Thunder. They know that the confidence acquired during difficult times last season can take you only so far.
This is, after all, a Thunder team that won Game 2 in the conference finals last year in Dallas and won three of their four regular season meeting against the Mavericks, including a 95-86 win Feb. 1 in Dallas.
Game 3 like a Game 7, huh?
Terry might be on to something with that theory.
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