(Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed previews Game 3 of the first-round playoffs series between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder as the defending champions return home looking to avoid a 0-3 hole.
Game 3 Preview: (7) Mavericks (0-2) at (2) Thunder (2-0)
DALLAS — In a series that’s featured 32 lead changes and 26 ties, the reigning champions haven’t been the team finishing down the stretch.
After two heart-breaking defeats on the road to begin their first-round series against the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center with one goal in mind: hold serve at home.
That begins Thursday night as the Mavericks try to fight their way back into the series with a much-needed victory in front of the Dallas faithful.
“There are no concerns here, it’s just basketball,” point guard Jason Kidd said after the Mavs’ Wednesday practice. “You know, we gave two good efforts in Oklahoma City and came up short, and now it’s our turn to protect home.”
With the matchup now shifting to Dallas for Games 3 and 4, the Mavericks will try to fight their way back into the series behind their hometown fans. The defending champs will also attempt to execute better down the stretch following two road losses in the regular season and two more to the Thunder in the playoffs by a combined 10 points.
“Well, we’ve gotta win two games. That’s our job now. They’ve done it at their place and now it’s our job to hold serve at home,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle explained. “At the same time, we’re right there. We’re right there, and we’ve gotta make the plays coming back home.
“Coming home, we need a loud building. I mean, we need our crowd to be as loud and raucous as their crowd was,” the coach added. “We’ve gotta move on to Game 3 and we’ve got to get our disposition stronger, we’ve gotta get our posture stronger and we’ve gotta get ready to play our [tails] off.”
Falling to a 99-98 loss on three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant’s game-winning jumper with 1.5 seconds left in Game 1, the Mavs quickly found themselves in a 16-point hole two nights later before battling back to assume the lead.
Still, with late-game miscues once again coming back to bite the Mavs, the Thunder escaped Monday night’s contest with a 102-99 win on its home floor.
Now, the Mavericks return to Big D looking for a little home cooking, needing a victory Thursday night to seize some momentum and avoid a 0-3 hole.
“Well, it’s tough,” Mavs leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki admitted. “Really, all four games we’ve had [in OKC] — two in the regular season and two in the playoffs — we’re right there and really we’re just a couple of bounces away from being up 2-0. It’s tough and it’s frustrating, but we’ve gotta keep coming. We’re not gonna lay down. … We’ve got enough warriors over here, we’re gonna come back Thursday and respond the way we did when we were down 16.”
The reigning titleholders will also try to overmatch the Thunder’s physicality in Game 3. And after Nowitzki’s heated exchange with Thunder big man Kendrick Perkins, there figures to be no love lost between the two.
“It’s just two teams playing hard,” Nowitzki said of the sequence that resulted in a double-technical foul call. “I think they really came at us early and we had to respond physically. … He tried to bully me, I bullied back a little bit, talked about some stuff and moved on.”
“Look, it’s playoff basketball and there’s gonna be ‘chippiness.’ There’s gonna be contact, there’s gonna be hits, and we’ve just gotta make sure that our disposition is where it needs to be, on the one hand. On the other hand, our poise and composure have to be very strong,” Carlisle added.
Meanwhile, after holding Durant to 15-of-44 shooting through two games, the Dallas defense will look for a way to keep the lethal scoring threat quiet while also limiting All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook’s opportunities at the offensive end.
While Durant has struggled, Westbrook has excelled, averaging 28.5 points in the series on 52.3 percent shooting. But with a multitude of defenders at Carlisle’s disposal, that could all change now that the series is in the Mavs’ own friendly confines.
“I’m not going to say what we’re gonna do matchup-wise, but we’ve gotta have a lot of guys ready to play him,” Carlisle said of slowing down Westbrook. “[Delonte] West is a good defender, [Shawn] Marion is a possibility, Kidd’s gonna guard him and we’re gonna be in a zone scrambling a lot. I mean, that’s where he’s been getting us a lot is in our zone stuff and some of those situations. So, we’ve been working on that, but he’s not the only guy that’s dangerous. I mean, they’ve got other guys that’s dangerous also.”
Note: The Mavs-Thunder series continues on Thursday night with Game 3 taking place at the American Airlines Center, airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on TNT at 8:30 p.m. CT.
WEAR BLUE – Wear it…or we’ll give you a free T-shirt to wear. All fans will receive an “ALL IN” shirt at their seat when they arrive.
GET TO YOUR SEAT EARLY – All fans coming to the game are encouraged to get to their seats early.
WATCH PARTIES – Watch parties will continue on Monday Night, doors will open one hour before tip off. Watch parties are free, but there is a $5 parking fee in the Platinum Garage. For more info visit mavs.com.
The Mavs-Thunder first-round series schedule is as follows:
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 at 7 p.m. CT on TNT/TXA 21
Game 6: Thunder at Mavericks; Thursday May 10 TBA
Game 7: Mavericks at Thunder; Saturday May 12 TBA