(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed reports from Oklahoma City and recaps the Dallas Mavericks' heart-breaking loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Thunder.
Recap: (7) Mavericks 98 at (2) Thunder 99
OKLAHOMA CITY — After two exhibition face-offs and four regular-season showdowns, the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder rekindled their budding rivalry Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.
With Game 1 of the first-round series taking place on the Thunder’s home floor, the defending champion Mavericks looked to duplicate the success of a series win in five games last year despite losing three out of the four meetings between the squads during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Mavs got a much-needed boost before the game with combo guard Delonte West suiting up after missing the team’s morning walkthrough due to a stomach sickness.
But even with West in the starting lineup the Mavs would have a hard time maintaining their edge after jumping out to an advantage. And much like Dec. 29 when three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant downed the Mavericks (0-1) to a 104-102 road loss with a game-winning three as time expired, the reigning titleholders would feel the sting of a last-second shot yet again, falling to a 99-98 loss after Durant’s jumper with 1.5 seconds on the clock.
“We were right there, the game was there for the taking and we needed one more play that we didn’t come up with,” Mavericks leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki said of the loss.
In the early going, the Mavs struggled to contain two-time All-Star lead guard Russell Westbrook, who hit his first four shots while Nowitzki missed on his first four attempts at the other end. Still, with a boost coming from the Mavs’ bench led by sixth man Jason Terry, the visitors from the south would gain an early advantage in the opening quarter, battling a late surge by Durant to take a 26-22 lead after one behind Terry’s 10 first-quarter points.
Terry wouldn’t cool off entering the second period, draining a three and then banking in a shot to lift the Mavs to a 33-27 edge with 9:20 left in the half. Meanwhile, the Mavericks’ attention to detail on the glass opened up a rebounding advantage.
The Thunder (1-0) would briefly regain the lead behind Westbrook before eight-time All-Star Vince Carter intervened for the Mavs. Nowitzki then showed signs of life to close the half. But following Serge Ibaka’s three just before the close of the half, the Mavs entered the intermission with just a 51-48 edge despite Terry’s 14 points and Nowitzki’s 10 points to lead the way.
Led by Terry’s 6-of-7 shooting, the Mavericks slightly outshot the Thunder through two quarters, 48.8 percent to 48.7 percent. Meanwhile, the Mavs claimed a 21-15 rebounding margin, 22-18 separation in points in the paint and 7-2 spread in second-chance points at the midway mark.
Much like in the first half, the Thunder would battle their way briefly in front to start the third. But a pair of corner 3-pointers by forward Shawn Marion would regain the momentum for the Mavs before Terry again lit the net on fire from deep.
And with the two veterans leading the response after six straight Thunder points to gain the lead, the Mavericks entered the fourth with a 73-69 margin in their favor.
Looking to pull away down the stretch, after being outexecuted in the fourth quarter during the regular season, the Mavs took a 78-73 advantage after West’s three kept the two teams separated. But with Durant struggling, Westbrook and James Harden refused to let the score get away from the young Thunder as Westbrook tied the game at 80-all with an and-1 score with 6:13 left.
The Mavericks wouldn’t panic, however, while charging back in front behind point guard Jason Kidd. Nowitzki then tried to put his stamp on the game, scoring a three-point play with 3:23 left to lift the Mavs to a 92-85 lead.
But the Thunder wasn’t to be outdone, capitalizing off Dallas’ miscues and immediately using a 7-0 run capped by Durant’s slam to tie the game at 94-all with 1:27 left.
After a loose ball and broken possession ended with Ian Mahinmi’s two free throws, the Mavs regained the lead momentarily before Ibaka’s and-1 dunk with 53.9 left to give the Thunder a slight advantage. The two teams then remained in a battle before Nowitzki’s two free throws lifted the Mavs to a 98-97 edge with just 9.0 ticks left for the Thunder to answer.
Down one, the Thunder went to their go-to scorer as Durant worked on Marion. And despite the Mavs’ defensive specialist’s best effort, the rangy Durant rose up for a jumper over Marion’s outstretched hand that bounced off the rim and in to give OKC the lead with 1.5 seconds left. And with no timeout remaining for Dallas, Marion’s desperation heave from mid-court came after the final buzzer.
“It was great defense,” Marion said of Durant’s final shot. “I don’t even think he could see the rim. There was no way he could see the rim. He just threw that (ball) up and it rolled in. … We should have never even been in that position, but you’ve got to give him credit because he hit a hell of a shot.”
“Well, Nowitzki made a great play to get fouled. It was clearly a foul, so he made a couple of free throws. Then at the end, we wanted Marion guarding him [Durant], but he made a great shot. The only other thing we could have done was double team him and get the ball out of his hands, and we should have done that, obviously. So that’s on me. I take responsibility for that. I think the important thing we need to realize is that our guys competed at an extremely high level and really worked hard to get a seven-point lead with 2:20 to go (in the game). We made mistakes you can’t make down the stretch. The last shot always gets magnified. But we made some uncharacteristic mistakes that we’re not going to make anymore in the series. We can’t,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle added.
In the loss, Nowitzki finished with a team-high 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Meanwhile, with Westbrook quieting Terry in the fourth, the Mavs’ star reserve finished with 20 points off the bench on 8-of-10 from the floor and 4-of-5 from three.
“They were playing him [Terry] hard. That’s my job to get him more looks when he’s going good. I’ll take the responsibility for that,” Carlisle admitted.
“We’ve gotta find a way to get JET [Terry] the ball,” Nowitzki echoed. “I think he had the hot hand and we couldn’t even get him the ball in the fourth quarter. They denied him everywhere ... and I hate to waste a game by JET like that. He was on fire.”
Marion added 17 points and Carter pitched in 13 points of his own to give the Mavs four in double figures.
“It’s unfortunate for us that we played great basketball and gave ourselves a chance to win. We had a nice lead and we just have to close out games,” Carter said of the loss. “When you’re playing on somebody else’s home court, holding a lead like that, we just have to close out games, plain and simple.”
Westbrook led the Thunder with a game-high 28 points on 13-of-23 shooting and Durant finished with 25 points on just 10-of-27 from the floor. The Thunder also got an unexpected 22 points from Ibaka and 19 points from James Harden, outshooting the Mavs on the night, 48.1 percent to 43.6 percent.
Oklahoma City finished with a 20-12 separation in fast-break points and 44-32 advantage in points in the paint as well, making up for the Mavs’ 42-36 rebounding edge and 14-6 margin in second-chance points.
“I thought we made a lot of great plays, played a good game all the way around, we outrebounded them, got to the free throw line and that’s usually a winning formula for us. … We were right there, made some mistakes, I turned the ball over twice in the last three minutes when we were up by seven and little stuff like that puts them in transition. Just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch. Ibaka had an and-1 we can’t give up and Durant made a tough pull-up there. I think we played him as tough as you can,” Nowitzki concluded.
The Mavs-Thunder series continues on Monday night in Oklahoma City, with Game 2 of the first-round matchup airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on TNT at 8:30 p.m. CT.
“If any team can recover from it, it’s an experienced one, and we have a lot of older guys who have been through a lot,” Nowitzki confidently said while looking forward. “It’s a big game for us on Monday and hopefully we play a more all-around game.”
“It’s frustrating, because I play to win. I’m not playing to lose, and every time we do lose, I expect us to win. This game was not any different than any other game. We’ll get another opportunity on Monday to really bounce back and tie this series up,” Carter added.
The Mavs-Thunder first-round series schedule is as follows:
Game 2: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday April 30 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 3: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 3 at 8:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 4: Thunder at Mavericks; Saturday May 5 at 6:30 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 5: Mavericks at Thunder; Monday May 7 TBA
Game 6: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 10 TBA
Game 7: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday May 12 TBA