Earl K. Sneed recaps the Dallas Mavericks' thrilling Game 4 overtime victory to take a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals, as the Dallas team overcame a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter led by forward Dirk Nowitzki to extend a five-game playoff road winning streak and move one game away from the NBA Finals.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Two ends of the same spectrum.
While the Dallas Mavericks entered their Game 4 matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder simply looking to build off a 93-87 road win to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Finals, Thunder coach Scott Brooks continued to try to wrap his mind around how the Dallas team had pulled out three victories — two regular-season games included — on his squad’s home floor.
And with a chance for the visitors from the south to return to Dallas up 3-1 with a fourth road win on Monday night, both Brooks and his counterpart Rick Carlisle had different takes on the Mavericks’ recent success in Oklahoma City Arena.
“This is the playoffs, so the regular-season stuff doesn’t matter,” Carlisle pointed out. “We put together a terrific game in Game 3. We’re well aware how much more difficult it’s gonna be tonight. We’re gonna have to sustain and be smart tonight.”
“I’m not gonna say they have our number. Teams aren’t gonna beat us if they’re not good,” Brooks said of his team’s inability to hold serve against the Mavs at home. “We’re a good team, we’re a good basketball team and had a good home-court record, and they came in, even in the regular season … that’s what they did to us in the regular season and that’s what good teams do.”
If the Mavs didn’t have the Thunder’s number coming into the night, they certain did exiting the rowdy arena afterwards, using a historic comeback in the fourth quarter to force overtime before snatching a 112-105 victory led by Dirk Nowitzki’s 40 points on the night.
“I can’t remember another comeback like that. … It was a great comeback. Definitely one of the best that I remember being a Maverick,” Nowitzki said after willing his team to a come-from-behind victory despite trailing by as much as 15 late in the final period.
But the Mavericks faced a vengeful Thunder squad early, starting the game in a 10-2 hole until swingman DeShawn Stevenson’s corner 3-pointer briefly stopped the bleeding. Still, with back-to-back scoring champion Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook leading the charge, the Thunder would jump out to an 18-8 advantage while capitalizing off the Mavs’ miscues.
And after making the first nine shots the home team hoisted up, the Thunder’s lead would reach as much as 12 before the Mavs crept to within a 31-22 deficit, despite Oklahoma City’s 15-of-26 shooting and 10 quick points for Durant after one quarter of play.
“They hit us early today and we weren’t quite ready,” Nowitzki admitted.
With their team on the ropes, the Mavericks turned to their two go-to scorers, with both Nowitzki and sixth man Jason Terry trying to rebound from sub-par Game 3 performances. The two sharpshooters met the challenge, seemingly willing their team back into the game while Durant and Westbrook continued to score with ease.
Behind an aggressive and attacking Nowitzki, the Mavs climbed to as close as three down, before heading to the locker room down 59-54 despite the 10-time All-Star’s 22 points (17 in the second quarter) through 24 minutes of play.
With Durant and Westbrook combining to score 26 at the midway point, Nowitzki shouldered the bulk of the scoring load for Dallas, connecting on 6-for-7 from the floor and all nine free throw attempts. But the Thunder’s 19-11 rebounding advantage (nine offensive) only bolstered the fact that the host squad was also outshooting the Mavs, 58.3 percent to 54.8 percent. At the same time, Dallas’ 11 first-half turnovers, which led to 15 points for Oklahoma City at the other end, became even more costly.
“Really what was killing us all night long was offensive rebounds, tip-outs for shots,” Nowitzki confessed.
The ball continued to flow Nowitzki’s way for the Mavericks on offense early in the third quarter. But after a sequence in which Durant split a pair at the foul line, leading to his own open 3-pointer and a technical foul call on Mavericks center Tyson Chandler after the play for an elbow to Kendrick Perkins’ face, the Mavericks again trailed by double digits following a five-point possession.
“We just felt we couldn’t get over the hump,” point guard Jason Kidd said. “In the playoffs, you can’t just throw in the towel. We could have easily said, ‘Hey, we did our job, we won Game 3 and now we’re gonna go home with the split. But nobody ever hung their head. Nobody was complaining. We kept playing.”
But again the Mavericks would battle back, using eight giveaways in the period by the Thunder and with Terry the culprit on offense this time around, scoring nine in the third to bring his squad to within two before entering the final quarter down 81-77.
However, whatever momentum the Mavs carried into the fourth period quickly shifted to the Thunder’s side in the early minutes of the final period, with the Dallas offense becoming stagnant while the home team played off its crowd to open up an 88-79 edge which forced a Carlisle timeout with 10:23 left to respond.
The Mavs’ comeback then took a punch when big man Brendan Haywood delivered a flagrant foul Durant’s way a short time later, despite backup point guard J.J. Barea’s relentless drives to the hoop. Meanwhile, the Mavs’ inability to keep the Thunder off the offensive glass continued down the stretch, with Oklahoma City keeping possessions alive while the Dallas defense scrambled for stops.
Nick Collison’s offensive rebound and feed to Durant for a 3 from the top of the key then made it a 99-84 game with just 5:04 remaining, essentially serving as what was thought to be a knockout blow with the Mavericks staggering down the stretch.
“We’ve been on the flipside where we’ve given up 15-point leads. I’ve seen us give away a 20-point lead, down 15, down 10, come back in the fourth quarter, and Dirk finds a way. We just don’t lose confidence in those types of situations,” Terry explained.
Still, the Mavericks made one more run, with Nowitzki making it an eight-point game, 99-91, with a jumper from the wing with just 3:14 remaining. It would all be a part of a Nowitzki-led 17-2 Dallas spurt, with the 7-footer scoring 12 during the run and tying the game at 101-all with 6.4 seconds left for the Thunder to respond.
After a timeout, Brooks went to Durant, but the scoring champs’ 3-point attempt was blocked by Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, leading to Kidd’s hustle to claim the ball and call timeout with .7 seconds on the clock. But the Mavs’ drawn up lob pass to Marion would be tipped away as the buzzer sounded, forcing overtime for both teams to duke it out for the win.
“We were resilient. What more can I say, we did what we had to do,” Marion said of the final sequence. “We were hungry. We wanted it. We just kept fighting and fighting, we got over that hump and we saw daylight.”
“Once we got to OT, after being down 15 and making that comeback, we talked about it and said, ‘We gotta make a run now. We’re here, this is our ballgame, we’ve got to go for it.’ That’s what we talked about,” Nowitzki explained.
The two squads battled to a 105-105 stalemate in the additional period, until Nowitzki found Kidd in the corner out of a double team, when the future Hall of Fame lead guard’s pump fake and patiently-shot 3 put the Mavericks ahead by three with only 40.3 seconds remaining.
“I was actually gonna make a play there on the elbow against Collison,” Nowitzki detailed. “And once I turned, I think Westbrook was right there or right in between, so I didn’t really have a good look. So, I swung it over to Kidd, and he made a nice little play, I thought.”
“I knew the ball was gonna end up to me,” Kidd explained. “Dirk has a little trust in me, and I felt it was my job to be able to knock down that shot. They kind of went to him late, so Westbrook had to contest my shot. I thought about jumping into him, but I just reloaded and shot it. People were talking about it reminded them of the Boston game in Boston, so I just got lucky that the ball went in.”
Westbrook then missed on a crucial drive, before Kidd and Terry completed the historic comeback with clutch free throws at the line.
Finishing the night 12-of-20 from the floor, 2-for-3 from 3-point range and 14-for-15 from the foul line, Nowitzki led the way with a performance for the ages.
Off the bench, Terry pitched in 20 points on 7-for-19 shooting, while Kidd made it three Mavericks in double figures with 17 points on 3-of-6 from behind the arc to go along with seven assists.
Durant finished 9-of-22 from the floor facing Marion’s lockdown defense late, scoring a team-high 29 points to go with 15 rebounds in a losing effort.
“I was just playing good, solid defense. I was trying to frustrate him, and I stayed with it. Even though he hit those first shots in the game, I was all over dude. He hit some tough shots, but I was making it hard for him,” Marion said of his defense on Durant.
Meanwhile, Westbrook posted 19 points and Serge Ibaka registered a double-double with 18 points and 10 boards to lead five scorers in double figures.
Led by Durant and Ibaka, the Thunder claimed a 55-33 rebounding advantage with 20 offensive boards leading to a 24-12 edge in second-chance points. But the Mavericks managed to turn 26 Thunder turnovers into 26 points at the other end, surrendering just 17 points off their 13 giveaways to make up for the first-half miscues.
And although the Thunder also outshot the Mavericks, 46.7 percent to 43.2 percent, and outscored Dallas in the paint, 54-36, the visiting team now sits just a game away from reaching the NBA Finals with Game 5 back at the American Airlines Center on Wednesday night.
“I think they’re gonna come back in Game 5 and throw everything at us, because they’re desperate now,” Nowitzki said when looking ahead to the potential closeout game. “They showed they can win on our home court, they stole Game 2 there, so they’re gonna be still confident. We’ve got to take it. Nothing is gonna be given to you in this league, especially not in the playoffs.”
Note: Looking to close out the series, the Mavericks will host Game 5 at the American Airlines Center on Wednesday night, with the game tipping off at 8 p.m. CT and airing nationally on ESPN. Great seats are still available and tickets can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
All remaining the Mavs’ home playoff games at American Airlines Center will be a MAVS ROYAL BLUE-OUT!
Every seat at the American Airlines Center will have a MAVS ROYAL BLUE playoff T-shirt placed in it. We need for you and every Mavs fan to show their Mavs pride. So, dress ready to put on your MAVS ROYAL BLUE playoff T-shirt when you get to your seat.