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.''