(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed recaps Thursday night's Game 3 between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder as the defending champions fell into a 0-3 hole in the first-round series.
Recap: (2) Thunder 95 at (7) Mavericks 79
DALLAS — Suffering two heart-breaking losses in Oklahoma City to the Thunder to begin their first-round series, the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks returned to the American Airlines Center looking for a much-needed home victory to get back on track.
The reigning titleholders were also in need of a spark coming into Thursday night’s Game 3, after falling into a 0-2 hole following two road losses by a combined four points.
And with the Thunder defense keying in on Mavericks leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki and sixth man Jason Terry through the first two games of the series, coach Rick Carlisle admitted before the third outing that in order for the Mavs to avoid falling into a three-games-to-none situation a collection of unsung heroes from the Dallas roster would need to step up.
“We’re back home and we’re gonna have to have some guys step up, without question,” Carlisle said before the all-important Game 3. “It’s not possible in our particular situation to say, ‘Alright, you right there and you over here, you go for eight points and you go for 12.’ That’s not how our game works. What we have to do is have a conglomeration of guys busting their [tails] together and really getting after it, and the byproduct has gotta be a certain balance. And that’s what we’re striving for.”
Carlisle and the Mavs then stepped on the court in front of a blue-out capacity crowd looking to claim their first win of the series. But instead it would be the Thunder that would collectively thrive, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead after storming to a 95-79 rout on the Mavericks’ home floor.
“I thought we played two really solid games up in OKC, didn’t find a way to steal one and tonight just picked a really bad time to put a stinker out there,” Nowitzki said of the loss.
With an aggressive Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the charge for the Thunder, the Mavs found themselves in an early hole. And after Durant’s back-to-back shots from behind the three-point arc, the Mavericks quickly faced a 9-2 deficit to start the game.
“I mean, our goal was obviously to come out swinging and create energy, get the building going. We just couldn’t get anything going offensively. … It just wasn’t the way we wanted to start the game. But you’ve just gotta give them credit, they threw a heck of a game at us,” Nowitzki added.
Frustration would then set in for the Mavericks with Nowitzki assessed a technical foul call with 7:20 left in the opening period for arguing with officiating. Meanwhile, the Mavs’ defensive pressure on Durant would take a hit as forward Shawn Marion picked up a quick two fouls, before Carlisle was also handed a technical for his unhappiness with the officials.
“There was some distractions there,” Carlisle said after his team seemed rattled by the officiating. “Look, there’s been some frustration with the officials, but we’re not going to make it about the officials.”
A vintage slam by Vince Carter would breathe life into the crowd and the Mavs' bench, however, before entering the second stanza. Still, the Mavericks faced a 32-26 disadvantage after one thanks to Durant’s 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 3-for-4 from deep.
With Nowitzki and point guard Jason Kidd on the bench, the Thunder would regain a double-digit lead as the Mavs’ second unit struggled to withstand the scoring wave by the visiting squad. The two future Hall of Famers then returned to the floor as part of Carlisle’s “small-ball” lineup, just in time to see an 8-0 run to extend the Thunder’s lead to as much as 15.
And despite the duo's best efforts and 10 points apiece, the Mavs trailed 50-41 at the half after Durant exploded for 21 first-half points on 8-of-10 shooting and 3-for-4 from three.
Led by Durant, the Thunder outshot the Mavs through two quarters, 41.3 percent to 36.8 percent, in addition to a 23-21 rebounding edge. Oklahoma City also held a 16-12 edge in points in the paint and 10-0 advantage in fast-break points while forcing nine Dallas turnovers at the midway mark.
“Offensively, we just had no rhythm,” Terry admitted.
Sticking with the same strategy from Game 2, Carlisle inserted backup big man Ian Mahinmi into the first unit in place of Brendan Haywood at center to begin the third quarter. But after the Mavs charged to within five, Westbrook caught fire to extend the Thunder’s lead back to double figures, with he and Thabo Sefolosha draining back-to-back triples to open up a 66-50 score with 5:53 left in the period.
A third technical foul would then be assessed on Delonte West for an altercation with Thunder guard Derek Fisher, before a 4-of-18 period from the floor ended with the Mavs trailing 75-57.
Threes by Fisher and Daequan Cook would only pad the Thunder’s lead as the visitors began to blow the game open. Then Cook continued to fire from long range, raining in shots from the perimeter as the disadvantage reached its peak at 26.
And with the game no longer in doubt, Carlisle pulled his main contributors with 4:52 remaining.
“We were competing pretty good. Our mistakes, we weren’t able to overcome. Their high-level play, we weren’t able to overcome either. It’s really tough to go down 0-3. But we’re going to keep fighting. I thought even though we played bad, we competed well. That’s hard to say when [the lead] is in the 20′s. Until I look at the film and see otherwise, I like the way we’re battling. We’ve just had some bad shooting nights and some horrible decision making. Frankly, a lot of the responsibility is on me; I didn’t have these guys ready to play,” the coach said.
Hitting just 6-of-15 on the night, Nowitzki led the Mavs with 17 points. Kidd added 12 points and Terry was the only other Mav in double figures with 11 points off the bench.
“Nobody really had a good game for us and they took it to us on the other end. Everybody made shots and we just picked a tough time to get nothing going on the offensive end,” Nowitzki explained.
Leading the way for the Thunder was Durant, who scored 31 points on 11-of-15 shooting and 4-of-6 from three to go along with six assists. Westbrook added 20 points on 8-of-19 from the floor while Ibaka, Fisher and James Harden scored 10 points apiece.
Oklahoma City also finished the night outshooting the Mavs from the floor, 42.4 percent to 34.2 percent, despite the Mavs’ 46-45 rebounding edge. The Thunder finished the game 12-of-28 from three as well, compared to Dallas’ 7-for-22 at the other end.
“I mean, you’ve gotta take your hat off to them. They came out and played a [heck] of a game tonight and they kicked our [tails] in every facet of the game,” Terry simply said.
“[Durant] is a great player,” Carlisle added. “He’s the best scorer on the planet. Marion did a phenomenal job for two games, and then tonight Durant picked his level up a little bit. He was making some of those contested shots. He was 11-for-15, and that’s a phenomenal shooting night in a game where they’re spreading the ball around quite a bit. His high-level play and the other guys, the role players, were hitting threes. We didn’t match them; we shot 31 percent (from behind the arc) and they shot 42.9 percent. It’s hard to overcome that.”
The Mavericks will now try to stave off elimination on Saturday night when the series continues with Game 4 taking place at the American Airlines Center, airing locally on TXA 21 and nationally on TNT at 6:30 p.m. CT. No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a series.
“I’ll make sure that we’re focused on the game at home on Saturday. … We’re disappointed, but we’re going to keep playing,” Carlisle said. “We’ll circle the wagons tomorrow, get the wheels back on the wagon and we’ll get ready for Saturday.”
“I think we come out and come out with pride,” Terry added, “and play hard and execute our game plan. We haven’t done that in this series for 48 minutes and hopefully Saturday night we can get that done.”
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 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