Recap: (2) Thunder 103 at (7) Mavericks 97
Earl K. Sneed recaps the first-round series finale between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder, after James Harden's monster fourth quarter brought an end to Dallas' season and reign as champions.
Recap: (2) Thunder 103 at (7) Mavericks 97
DALLAS — With his team looking to become the first in NBA history to overcome a 0-3 deficit before going on to win its first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks Rick Carlisle listed what characteristics the defending champs would have to exhibit in order to do so.
“Well, you’ve gotta have the wherewithal to hang in and play whistle to whistle for an extended period of time,” Carlisle said Saturday night before taking the court at the American Airlines Center for Game 4. “That’s a broad question, but the truth is it’s four Game 7′s. I’ve been in several Game 7′s, they’re great, and this is another one tonight, even though it’s Game 4.”
The Mavs then looked to back bounce after a 95-79 loss on their home floor Thursday night, attempting to extend their title defense and force the series back to Oklahoma City. But after the Mavs built up a 13-point lead in the third quarter, the Thunder (4-0) would stage a furious rally. And with a 35-16 fourth quarter powering the visiting squad, the Mavericks’ season and title reign would come to an end after a 103-97 defeat.
The Mavericks (0-4) are now the first team since the 2007 Miami Heat to win the NBA championship and then get swept out of the playoffs in the first round the following season.
“Just not consistent enough to be an elite team this year,” Mavericks leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki said after the loss.
He added: “We still left it all out there. Had two great shots to steal one in OKC. I mean, this is what it comes down to; if you’re up in both games in OKC, you’ve gotta come up with one, you’ve gotta steal one and then come back here 1-1, and I then think everything is wide open. But we suffered the two heart-breaking losses up there and just really picked a bad time in Game 3, where we really threw up one of our worst games of the season.”
Looking for a spark, Carlisle inserted sixth man Jason Terry into the starting lineup in place of new addition Delonte West, putting the veteran sharpshooter alongside point guard Jason Kidd in the backcourt and the frontline of Shawn Marion, Nowitzki and center Brendan Haywood. But even the veteran first unit couldn’t avoid playing from behind early after a 7-2 start for the Thunder.
Behind Kidd and Marion, the Mavs would settle down and emerge with a 15-14 edge on Kidd’s 3-pointer after seven straight points by the future Hall of Fame lead guard. But after never once leading in Game 3, the Mavericks entered the second quarter down 26-24.
With Thunder center Kendrick Perkins ruled out for the remainder of the game after straining his right hip in the first period, the Mavs looked to take charge in the second stanza. But instead the Thunder would reel off the first four points of the period to open up a seven-point lead.
Still, even after Thunder sixth man James Harden caught fire from the outside, the Mavs battled back to regain the lead behind Marion’s lock-down defense and the offense of Nowitzki and backup big man Ian Mahinmi inside. The two teams then found themselves knotted at 47-all at the half after Nowitzki scored 10 of his 13 first-half points in the period.
Led by Nowitzki’s 5-of-11 shooting, the Mavs stayed in the game despite getting outshot through the two quarters, 51.5 percent to 41.9 percent. The Thunder also overcame nine turnovers with a 21-18 rebounding edge and 20-16 margin in points in the paint.
Back-to-back scores by Nowitzki and Terry would get the Mavericks off to a quick start as the third period got underway. Nowitzki then continued his assault while moving to the outside, draining a three to put the Mavs up 56-50 with 9:00 left in the quarter.
Meanwhile, the Thunder’s frustration would grow as the Mavericks assumed their largest lead of the series, with Russell Westbrook assessed a technical foul call for a slap to Nowitzki’s face. And with Marion suffocating three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant on the defensive end of the floor, the Mavs headed to the final quarter up 81-68.
“Guys fought, it’s 47-47 at halftime and then we got a little lead up to 13. But that evaporated pretty fast,” Kidd admitted.
Harden would again lead the Thunder’s charge in the final period, cutting the Mavs’ lead to single digits. But the Mavs wouldn’t waver, regaining a controlling advantage as West found Terry in the corner for a three to go back up 13.
Again, however, Harden would attack, bringing his team back with a relentless assault on the Dallas defense before Durant’s three over Vince Carter cut the Mavs’ lead just three, 86-83, with 7:27 remaining.
A thunderous slam by Harden then pulled the Thunder within one after a 12-0 OKC run before Durant tied the game at 88-all.
“Being in attack mode,” Harden said of his big fourth period. "[Thunder coach Scott Brooks] put the ball in my hands in the fourth quarter and he told me to make plays, so I was just trying to make plays. And Russell did a great job on the defensive end with a couple of steals in a row and chasing Jason Terry. It was just tremendous.”
“If you look at it, they had a small lineup out there that’s been kind of bothering us all four games,” Nowitzki said of the Thunder’s comeback in the final period. “And all they were doing was spreading the floor with a shooter in the corner, shooter in the corner, shooter on the wing, Harden got the ball and the five man was running up setting the screen-and-roll.”
Nowitzki then tried to settle his team down with an and-1 at the other end. But the Thunder would seize the lead after Westbrook stole the ball from Nowitzki and feed Serge Ibaka for the slam to go up 92-91. Carlisle was then forced to call timeout after Derek Fisher’s lefty score put the Mavs in a 94-91 hole with 4:05 left.
Nowitzki again tried to will his team back in front after falling down by five, drawing Ibaka’s sixth personal foul call with 2:14 on the clock and draining the subsequent free throws to bring the Mavs to within three, 98-95.
But Nowitzki would immediately foul Nick Collison at the other end of the floor and the Thunder big man would provide padding to the Thunder’s lead with two free throws. The Mavs would then go scoreless until Nowitzki’s two free throws with 33.0 ticks left made it a three-point game.
Fittingly, however, it would be Harden that would provide the finishing tough, driving into the heart of the Dallas defense for a score with 10.2 seconds on the clock. The Mavs wouldn’t get any closer in the final seconds.
“Hey, not our year. Take your hat off to them. They’re a good young team, the balls were definitely bouncing their way, but all season long they’ve played well,” Terry explained. “You have to give them credit for everything they did tonight. Great effort by us for three games in this series, just not our time.”
Scoring 15 of his 29 points in the final period, Harden led the Thunder to the victory while hitting 11-of-16 from the field off the bench. Durant added 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting as five Thunder players scored in double figures.
“You know, if you look at all the top teams now, they at least have two or three guys they can just throw the ball to and they do their thing,” Nowitzki explained. “If you look at OKC, who we just lost to, it was either Westbrook in Game 1 and Game 2, then it was Durant last game. Today, they just throw it to Harden and he goes off. So, if you want to be an elite team in the league right now, you have to have two or three guys that can go off at any time. I just thought they had more weapons than us. That was pretty clear.”
Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 34 points on 10-of-25 shooting and 13-for-13 at the foul line. Kidd added 16 points and Terry and Mahimmi were the only other Mavs in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Thunder also finished the game outshooting the Mavs, 52 percent to 41.8 percent, while the teams battled to a 39-all rebounding stalemate. Oklahoma City finished with a 52-28 advantage in points in the paint and 12-5 margin in fast-break points as well.
The Mavs now head into an offseason of uncertainty, starting with the unknown futures of Carlisle, Kidd and Terry, who are all free-agents-to-be.
“I just want to congratulate Oklahoma City on an extremely well-played series and I guess publicly thank our guys for the effort they gave this year,” Carlisle concluded. “We have a group of special people in our locker room, starting with Dirk, J-Kidd, Terry and Marion. These guys have represented really the best of what the league has been about for so long and will continue to do so. These guys have all got a lot left in the tank. These guys are proud warriors. As difficult and disappointing as this is, I can’t express enough of my gratitude, and I know the fans feel the same way. They’re just special people, everybody in the locker room.”