Trailing by 15 points with only 5 minutes to play in one of the NBA’s rowdiest arenas, the Dallas Mavericks were just wishing and hoping for the best.
Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd delivered, and the Mavs suddenly find themselves only one win away from the NBA finals.
Nowitzki scored 40 points, Kidd hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in overtime and the Mavericks staged an improbable rally to stun the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-105 on Monday night and take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.
”You’re lying if you’re not surprised. Down 15 with 5 minutes to play you’re thinking hopefully something can happen,” Dallas center Brendan Haywood said. ”You’re just kind of wishing.”
Dallas didn’t lead until Nowitzki hit two free throws 16 seconds into overtime, needing to rally from a 99-84 deficit in the final 5 minutes of regulation. The Mavericks never let the Thunder – who were one win shy of tying an NBA record with eight OT wins in the regular season – go ahead in the extra period.
”There’s times and situations where they are going to test the courage and the mental inner strength of your team,” said Jason Terry, who scored 20 for Dallas. ”This was one of those times.
”This was a defining moment in our season where we look back and say, `Hey, that was the game”’
Kevin Durant missed a 3-pointer on Oklahoma City’s opening possession of overtime then didn’t get another shot until he missed a 3 off the front rim in the final 10 seconds with the Thunder down by five.
Durant finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds, and Serge Ibaka had 18 points and 10 boards for Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook added 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
The Thunder suffered their first consecutive losses of the postseason and first back-to-back home losses in six months.
Only two teams have come back from 3-1 deficits in NBA history without the benefit of home-court advantage in Game 7 – Houston in the 1995 West semifinals and Boston in the 1968 East finals.
”There’s no doubt it was a tough loss,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. ”If this loss did not hurt, there’s no such thing as a loss that can hurt you.”
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Dallas.
”We worked really hard these two games to win, and none of that guarantees anything for Game 5. We know that,” said coach Rick Carlisle, whose Mavs have won at least 50 games in 11 straight seasons with no titles and only one trip to the NBA finals to show for it.
”All of us involved with this team have been through a lot of these wars. We understand our position that we’re in. We respect it. We’re very humble about it. We’ve got to get ourselves revved up and ready for Wednesday, because that’s an opportunity.”
Durant had nine of the Thunder’s 26 turnovers, including the one that led to the big shot by the 38-year-old Kidd.
Kidd stripped him as he went up for a shot with just over a minute left in overtime, then took a pass from Nowitzki, pump-faked to get Westbrook in the air and stepped up to drill a 3-pointer to put Dallas up 108-105 with 40.3 seconds left.
Kidd scored 17 to go with seven assists, five rebounds and four steals.
”Everybody asks questions about the age and all that other stuff,” Carlisle said, ”but the thing I’d say to anybody is, `Never underestimate greatness.”’
Westbrook missed on a drive on Oklahoma City’s next possession, and Terry hit two free throws with 13 seconds left to give the Mavs a two-possession lead. Durant finally got another shot off, squatting with his head hanging down as Kidd walked up for two free throws to provide the final margin.
”We kept believing,” Nowitzki said. ”I think finally we got some rebounds. I think that was killing us all night long. We got second-chance points, tipouts. In the last couple minutes we got great stops, finally got some rebounds, and it really helped us (with) our flow. They couldn’t really guard us off the transition and we needed to get some stops and that was big down the stretch.”
Durant said all the Thunder can do now is try to be positive.
”It’s not over yet,” he said.
With much of the sellout crowd remaining on its feet, the Thunder grabbed control with two separate bursts of seven straight points early in the fourth quarter. Durant had a two-handed slam and a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound in the second run, gesturing as though he were slapping on a pro wrestling championship belt after the 3 made it 99-84 with 5:06 remaining.
He hadn’t won anything yet, though, especially with guard James Harden fouling out just after Dallas started the closing run in regulation.
The Mavericks limited the Thunder to just one basket the rest of the way and tied it at 101 on Nowitzki’s two free throws with 6.4 seconds left. Nowitzki scored 12 points during the Mavs’ 17-2 run and got fouled by Nick Collison, who grabbed the big German’s hip as he lunged to tip the ball away, before hitting both foul shots to tie it.
Shawn Marion blocked Durant’s 3-pointer at least 30 feet from the basket with 2 seconds left, and the Mavs couldn’t convert a chance at the win when Kidd’s inbounds lob with 0.7 seconds left hit the rim.
Oklahoma City came roaring out of the gates after trailing by as many as 17 points in the first quarter of Game 3. The Thunder hit their first nine shots and took an 18-8 lead after Durant caught a deflected inbounds pass and zoomed in for a right-handed jam.
They never quite could shake Dallas, though. The Mavericks were still within five at halftime and within 79-77 in the final minute of the third quarter.
”It goes without saying that it was a tough loss to accept, but it is a loss and we have to learn from it,” Brooks said. ”I thought our guys played as hard as a basketball game as you can play. They were physical, we challenged shots, we struggled a little bit down the stretch with execution and throughout the game we struggled with turnovers.”
NOTES: Tyson Chandler drew a technical foul in the third quarter. The NBA rescinded Chandler’s first two technicals in this series, so his postseason count is currently at four – three shy of what’s needed for a one-game suspension. Westbrook has five. … Dallas was the only visiting team to win twice in the regular season at the Oklahoma City Arena, where the Thunder were 30-11. The Mavs are 4-0 in the building in the regular season and playoffs. … Brooks, facing repeated questions about his starting lineup, says he’s sticking with it. ”We’re a young team,” he said, ”and if you give a young team instability, you’re going to get very inconsistent results.”