OKLAHOMA CITY » On a night on which the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t stop Oklahoma City early and couldn’t keep the Thunder off the boards all night, they still found a way to take control of the Western Conference finals.
Trailing by 15 points with 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks looked like a team ready to move on to Game 5 Wednesday and try their luck in Dallas. Instead, they took charge of a game they seemed to have lost control of much earlier.
Dirk Nowitzki finished with 40 points and came up huge near the end of regulation, hitting the free throws that sent the game to overtime. Then Jason Kidd’s 3-pointer with 40 seconds left in overtime broke a tie and Dallas’ defensive presence did the rest as the Mavericks escaped Oklahoma City Arena with a 112-105 victory.
"We kept believing," Nowitzki said. "In the last couple minutes we got some great stops. We finally got rebounds and it helped us with our flow."
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said: "The thing about this team all year is it’s been a resourceful group. They keep believing and we’ve been extremely opportunistic. The way they hung in tonight was fantastic."
You should be reluctant to say a series is over when it’s 3-1 and when the team trailing has as much firepower as Oklahoma City.
But having lost twice here at home, the Thunder have to be wondering what it takes to beat Dallas.
Can the Thunder regroup against a far more playoff-experienced team after such a devastating collapse?
"Definitely," Thunder guard Russell 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."
You look at all the things the Thunder had going for it in Game 4, and to know that wasn’t enough has to make this task seem formidable now.
Oklahoma City came out on fire, hitting its first eight shots in the game’s opening 4 minutes.
The Thunder built a 12-point lead early in the second quarter, but Nowitzki’s big first half helped Dallas cut that margin to five by halftime.
But Oklahoma City built a 15-point lead with 5 minutes to play and seemed to have everything going for it.
It wasn’t just the Kevin Durant show, as he got big contributions from the club’s role players. That was especially true with 6-foot-9 power forward Serge Ibaka, who was aggressive at the offensive end, finishing with 18 points. He also played a key role in Oklahoma City’s huge rebounding advantage, getting five of his 10 at the offensive end.
In all, Oklahoma City outshot Dallas from the field and had an almost absurd 55-33 edge in rebounds. For Dallas to win despite those deficiencies, it could only happen with defense.
The Thunder committed 26 turnovers to the Mavericks’ 13. Dallas had three players — Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry — with four steals.
Defense and a 17-2 run that included 12 points from Nowitzki changed everything for Game 4 and you have to think for the series as well.
"We had a couple turnovers, a couple quick shots and we missed some shots. We also had two bad fouls. Was that youth? I don’t know," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We’ve had some success all year playing with a young team. We have to execute better."