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.”