OKLAHOMA CITY – So much for the mental mojo the Mavericks might have had over the baby-faced Thunder.
By pulling off an impressive Game 1 comeback, Oklahoma City eliminated any doubt that it had the basketball IQ and cojones to compete with the defending champions during crunch time. That was a major question mark, considering the Dallas’ dominance in closing time during last year’s West finals, but that clearly didn’t cloud the Thunder’s minds with the game on the line.
The Mavs had a seven-point lead with 2:31 remaining. OKC – which no longer stands for Oklahoma Kan’t Closed – finished with a 12-4 run to take the 1-0 series lead. That could be a huge confidence boost for a team whose four best players – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka – are all younger than Rodrigue Beaubois.
“We had to play nearly perfect basketball on both ends of the floor,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of the last 150 seconds, “and we did.”
Durant’s high-degree-of-difficulty game-winner will dominate discussion of this game, but Oklahoma City puts itself in position to win with suffocating defense. Dallas didn’t have a field goal after Nowitzki’s jumper with 2:31 remaining, scoring solely from the free throw line, including one trip by Ian Mahinmi that came at the end of one of the sloppiest possessions of the season.
With center Kendrick Perkins bodying up on him and double teams coming at him. Nowitzki committed a couple of turnovers in the last 90 seconds, one of which led to a breakaway dunk for Durant.
With Westbrook denying him all over the floor, Jason Terry was a nonfactor the entire fourth quarter after lighting it up for 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting through the third.
“In the fourth quarter, we turned it up a notch,” Westbrook said. “That’s what the playoffs are all about.”
The Mavs put on a clinic in playoff closing last season. It appears that OKC’s kids learned well.