Inside Report: No. 4 Thunder (1-4) at No. 3 Mavericks (4-1) — Game 5 recap
Inside Report: No. 4 Thunder (1-4) at No. 3 Mavericks (4-1) — Game 5 recap
Earl K. Sneed recaps Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, as the Dallas Mavericks advanced to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history, using a second straight fourth-quarter comeback to end the Oklahoma City Thunder's season.
DALLAS — One win, and the Dallas Mavericks would reach the NBA’s promise land with an opportunity to accomplish the ultimate goal they set for themselves back at the start of training camp in September.
One win, and the Mavericks would bring an end to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season-long championship chase.
Needing just one victory to reach the NBA Finals, the Mavericks welcomed in the Thunder to the American Airlines Center Wednesday night hoping to be crowned Western Conference champs with a Game 5 victory. But before taking the court armed with a 3-1 series lead, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle expressed to his players that the task wasn’t done just yet, knowing that a vengeful Thunder squad would take the floor looking to repeat a 106-100 road win in Game 2 while also trying to avenge back-to-back losses.
With the opportunity on the table, Carlisle and the Mavericks wouldn’t need another game to finish off the Thunder, using a late comeback for the second straight outing and advancing to the Finals for the first time since finishing as the runner-ups in 2006 after a 100-96 Game 5 victory.
“Psychologically, there was stuff that could have gotten us down, but our guys stayed with it,” Carlisle said after the win. “And [the Thunder's] time will come, but it’s not now. We feel like now is our time to move on. This is a great moment, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do.”
“It was a great win,” leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki added. “It feels good to finally go back [to the Finals]. I think we tried to go back the last couple years and always fell short — first round, second round once. And it feels good to go back, but this time hopefully we can finish the job and we’ll go from there.”
The veteran-led Mavericks came out of the gates strong, storming to an 8-2 advantage from the opening tip with Nowitzki picking up where he left off after a 40-point performance in a come-from-behind 112-105 overtime win on Monday night. Meanwhile, center Tyson Chandler gave the Mavs a 1-2 punch inside, with the due scoring the first 13 points on the night for Dallas. But the Thunder held strong behind scoring champion Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, as the young stars powered their team to a 27-26 edge after the opening quarter.
“Tonight, coming home and everything, it looks like it’s tailor-made just to go out there and get the crowd behind you. But Oklahoma City had other ideas, and they played a great game,” Carlisle admitted.
The Mavericks struggled offensively in the period, hitting just 9-of-24 from the floor compared to Oklahoma City’s 10-of-23.
Oklahoma City’s youthful bench, sparked by Thunder sixth man James Harden, then rode the momentum of the first quarter into the second stanza, using an 11-2 run to surge ahead 38-30. And despite Mavericks backup point guard J.J. Barea’s best efforts, the home team continued to remain down on the scoreboard as Chandler found himself in early foul trouble after picking up his third personal following a double-foul call on the big man and Durant.
However, subbing in for Chandler, reserve center Brendan Haywood nearly brought the house down with a thunderous slam over Nick Collison. And it would be just the explosive spark the Mavericks would need to kick-start a late run to close the first half, climbing to within two, 54-52, after sixth man Jason Terry’s 3-pointer with 1:11 left in the second quarter, before picking up his third foul as well and watching the Thunder take a 55-52 advantage into the halftime intermission.
Led by Harden’s 16 points off the bench on 5-for-8 shooting to go along with 26 points combined for Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder outshot the Mavericks at the midway point, 47.7 percent to 45.2 percent. And although Nowitzki’s 13 points and 21 collective points between Barea and forward Shawn Marion kept the Mavericks afloat, the Thunder’s 14-6 margin in fast-break points put the Dallas team in a hole at the break.
With the Thunder continuing a stretch of 11 straight misses that spanned from the end of the second into the third, the Mavericks battled to a tie game at 59-all midway through the period. Sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic then rained in a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving the Mavericks a 65-63 lead, their first advantage since a 28-27 score with 11:42 remaining in the second quarter.
The Thunder briefly began to unravel, with Westbrook drawing a technical foul call after shoving Terry following a whistle. But instead the young visiting squad would rally behind the play, using a 9-0 spurt to regain the lead and the momentum, back ahead 72-66 with Westbrook commanding the Thunder offense and Collison powering the run with his inside play and defense on Nowitzki.
Carlisle countered with a “small-ball” three-guard lineup of point guard Jason Kidd, Barea and Terry next to Marion and Nowitzki, but the Thunder still escaped 36 minutes of play with a 76-72 lead hoping to deny the Mavericks a berth in the Finals with 12 minutes left to decide matters.
“You know, Oklahoma City is a great young team,” Carlisle explained. “They played with unbelievable fight and spirit. I mean, the game tonight, of all the games I’ve been involved with over the years in the playoffs, this is as hard a game as I’ve ever been involved with, just because of some of the adjustments they made and how they attacked.
“We went small for awhile. We were having success getting shots, but we had no rim coverage, and we were struggling to get rebounds. So, we went back big and basically went with the finishing group that has been pretty much our closing team most of the year.”
A Westbrook end-to-end drive put the Thunder on the board first in the final period. Durant followed that up with a 3-pointer a short time later, before Westbrook’s midrange jumper forced a timeout by Carlisle with the Mavs in an 85-77 hole and 9:12 on the clock left to respond.
Marion then tried to answer, scoring with an array of offensive moves at the rim to keep the Mavericks in the game. And after reaching the penalty with 4:46 remaining, the Mavericks were able to inch their way back close at the foul line.
Marion’s 2-for-2 trip to the charity stripe with 3:58 left made it a 92-90 game in Oklahoma City’s favor, before Durant extended the Thunder’s advantage and concluded an all-free throw 7-2 Dallas run. Still, the Mavericks continued to milk the hot hand, going to Marion out of a timeout on the low block for a patented baby hook shot to cut the deficit to two.
That’s when Nowitzki stepped in, following up his own missed 3-pointer with a triple after Westbrook grabbed the rebound and Terry forced a steal, leading to Marion’s assist out to the 7-footer for a triple at the top of the key to put the Mavs ahead 95-94 with 1:14 left.
“For Dirk to take the next three after missing the one before, I knew it was going in,” Terry said of the sequence.
And after a defensive stop, Marion tracked down a long rebound, leading to a coast-to-coast drive and dunk, plus the foul on Durant, giving the Mavericks a clutch 3-point play and a 98-94 lead with 48.9 seconds left.
“Tonight, the plays [Marion] made at the end of the game, to finish with the foul, making the free throw, that gave us enough breathing room and it took a little bit of wind out of their sails, because they were really going,” Carlisle said.
But the Thunder weren’t done, with Westbrook fouling Chandler out and cutting the Dallas lead to two with 39.0 ticks left. The Mavs looked to return fire with Nowitzki, but after his long miss landed in the arms of Kidd, the Thunder quickly fouled the 7-footer once the ball was swung back into his hands.
Calmly Nowitzki nailed a pair to extend the lead to four with 13.3 seconds still left for the Thunder to return fire. But both Durant and Harden misfired from long range in the final seconds, sealing a trip to the Finals and putting a cap on a 17-6 run to end the game.
“It came down to our veteran leadership, our experience and us being in every possible situation we’ve been in over the years. We know what were going to do down the stretch, offensively and defensively. We know we have to get stops and we’re able to do that. And when you have that belief and that trust in what you’re doing, it’s just a confidence and more times than not we’re going to be successful,” Terry summarized.
Nowitzki and Marion shared team-high honors with 26 points apiece, with Marion connecting on 10-of-17 from the floor, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking three shots to boot, while Nowitzki hit eight of his 15 shots and snatched down nine boards of his own.
Off the bench, Barea added 14 points, four rebounds and five assists, while Terry made it four Mavericks in double figures with 12 points. Meanwhile, Kidd racked up the assists, dishing out a game-high 10 on the night.
“This is a bunch of veterans who want to play and are unselfish,” Nowitzki noted. “I think that’s what makes this group special, everybody sacrificing for each other, and we just want to win. It’s been fun to play with these guys all season long, so hopefully we can have a great series in the next series.”
“All of us have unique stories. Shawn Marion, Peja, Coach Carlisle, Jason Kidd being [to the Finals] twice and not getting it done. So, I think that’s what is driving us and that is why we’re going to try to get it done this year for all of those guys,” Terry added.
Westbrook finished the night with a game-high 31 points to lead four Thunder players in double figures as well, but did so while hitting just 11-of-28 from the floor. And with Durant also struggling to connect at a high rate, hitting 8-of-20 to match Harden’s 23 points, the Dallas defense managed to capitalize off the Thunder’s miscues, turning 13 Oklahoma City turnovers into 21 points at the other end while surrendering just eight points off their own 12 turnovers.
Despite being outshot, 42.7 percent to 41.0 percent, and outrebounded, 49-44, the Mavericks still managed to fight their way to the win after taking 11 more free throw attempts, making 31-of-36 at the charity stripe. Meanwhile, the Thunder squandered a 50-44 advantage in points in the paint and 20-17 margin in fast-break points.
The Mavericks will now await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals, in a series that resumes Thursday night in Chicago with the Miami Heat leading the top-seeded Bulls 3-1.
The Mavs went 0-2 against the Bulls during the regular season, but swept the Heat two games to none. And with both the Bulls and Heat having better regular-season records than the Mavericks, the team from Dallas will begin Finals play on the road, hoping to extend a five-game playoff road winning streak in Game 1.
“Our goal now is to win four more games no matter who we play in the Finals,” Terry concluded after also tasting defeat at the Heat's hands in ’06. “This time around it’s even going to be more special. We’re going to leave it all out there on the floor and this is what you play for.”
“I think once you get to the Finals there is no second-place finish,” Nowitzki added. “I was already thinking about the Finals [during the Western Conference trophy presentation], and I’ve got to stay in the moment, obviously. But yeah, like I said, this is nice for a day, but we said our goal in October was to win it all. So, we haven’t done that yet.”