Thunder blow big lead in playoff loss to Mavs

Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City had a 15-point lead with 5
minutes left Monday night and a raucous crowd ready to celebrate a
series-tying victory.

Instead, a longtime Thunder problem – closing out games – showed
up again and now Oklahoma City is staring at a potential
season-ending game at Dallas. The Mavericks closed regulation with
a 17-2 run to send Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to
overtime, then Jason Kidd made a big 3-pointer to lift Dallas to a
112-105 win.

The devastating loss means the Thunder must win three straight
games against the surging Mavs to prolong their promising season,
starting Wednesday night in Dallas.

A subdued Durant took the loss hard, saying he felt sad because
”I let the city down.”

His coach, Scott Brooks, acknowledged ”a tough loss. If this
loss did not hurt, there’s no such thing as a loss that can hurt
you … This is a very difficult loss, but it is a loss you have to
take. You have to take it like a man and move on, and we somehow
have to muster enough energy tomorrow in our practice and then come
back and just focus on one game. We have to win one game.”

Oklahoma City made its first nine shots, outrebounded Dallas
55-33 and shot 46.7 percent, and still couldn’t hold off the
veteran Mavericks. James Harden fouled out with 4:34 remaining and
the Thunder offense sputtered down the stretch, mostly settling for
long jump shots as Dirk Nowitzki and Co. rallied.

Oklahoma City’s top two scorers, Durant and Russell Westbrook,
went scoreless in overtime. Dallas’ veteran poise – evidenced by
Kidd’s critical shot – overcame the Thunder’s youth.

”In a game like this, experience is really something that’s
important,” Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said. ”I think tonight,
we showed we were lacking some of it.”

Durant disputed that: ”This is basketball, man. Our youth has
nothing to do with what we were doing on the floor right now. We’ve
showed we can play on this level. They played good defense, man. We
missed some shots. Our youth has nothing to do with it.”

One thing that is indisputable: While Oklahoma City is now 6-3
at home this postseason, unless the Thunder pulls off the upset in
Game 5, there won’t be any more games inside Oklahoma City Arena
this season.

Can the Thunder regroup after such a devastating collapse?

”Definitely,” Westbrook said. ”I know the guys on the team
don’t want to go home. We’re definitely going to come back and be
ready to play.”

The Thunder dominated Dallas for most of the game, surging to a
double-digit lead in the opening minutes and causing Dallas coach
Rick Carlisle to call three timeouts in the first 9 minutes. After
two of those timeouts the Mavericks quickly turned the ball over,
leading to Thunder baskets.

Oklahoma City outscored the Mavericks 24-12 in second-chance
points, 19-6 on the fast break and 54-38 in the paint. Every time
Dallas made a run, Oklahoma City seemed to have an answer – until
the final minutes.

After going up 99-84 on a 3-pointer by Durant, the Thunder began
celebrating, but that proved premature. Nowitzki brought Dallas all
the way back with his two free throws with 6.4 seconds left tying
it at 101. He finished with 40 points.

”Really what happened in the last five minutes was all about
the defensive end, because we didn’t have our best offensive group
out there, but we had a team that got stops and got the ball in the
basket,” Carlisle said.

With Harden out, Dallas focused its defensive efforts on
stopping Durant and, to a lesser extent, Westbrook – a strategy
other teams have also used with some success this season.

”We went cold,” said Westbrook, who had 19 points and eight
assists. ”We had the game in our favor until the start of the
fourth. We just weren’t able to close it out.

”Shots we usually knock down just weren’t able to fall for
us.”

Dallas didn’t lead until overtime, and then the Mavericks never
trailed as the Thunder never looked comfortable offensively in the
final minutes.

Durant finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds but the biggest
number for the Thunder was 25 turnovers – nine by Durant and six by
Westbrook. Durant tried to shoulder much of the blame for the
loss.

”I’d get the ball where I wanted to, and I’d see three or four
guys around me and I had to make a pass,” Durant said. ”… Late
in the game, that’s my time, and a few of those times, it was just
too clogged up and I didn’t want to force a bad shot. I passed to
my teammates. I believe in my teammates. I trust them, but we just
weren’t making shots and they (the Mavericks) were.”