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Saturday, April 28, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Thunder 99, Mavs 98

By Jeff Caplan



OKLAHOMA CITY -- How it happened: Consider the switch flipped -- and it still couldn't reel a win against the amazing Thunder.

The creaky, old defending champion Mavericks played a whale of a game Saturday night, seamlessly returning on cue to the team-oriented, defensive-minded game plan that took them all the way to the title last season. Dallas had Game 1 in their hip pocket. Only anyone who has paid attention when these two teams get together know it wasn't over.

The Thunder trailed 92-85 with 3:23 to and were down to one final possession with 9.0 seconds to go after Dirk Nowitzki's two free throws gave the Mavs the 98-97 lead. Kevin Durant, ice-cold for much of the game, took the inbounds pass from Russell Westbrook, went one-on-one with Shawn Marion and pulled up a few feet behind the free throw line.

The soft jumper looked short, hit the front of the rim,  bounced backward and dropped, and the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd went nuts. In three games this season at OKC against the Mavs, Durant has two buzzer-beaters.

For much of the game this was a battle of sidekicks. Jason Terry hit his first six shots. Russell Westbrook carried the Thunder, who trailed 51-48 at halftime and 73-69 after three.

The Mavs will wonder how this one, another one in OKC, got away down the stretch. Closing time used to be the Mavs' time. Chalk another one up to the Thunder, whose defense down the stretch caused the Mavs to scramble on offense.

Westbrook finished with 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Durant, just 10-of-27 from the floor, had 25 points and James Harden finished with 19 -- 10 coming at the free throw line -- and six boards. Serge Ibaka was tremendous with 22 points and five blocks.

Nowitzki finished with 25 and a flurry in the fourth that seemed like it would lift Dallas to a huge win for a team that was just 13-20 on the road in the regular season. But the Mavs had four turnovers in the fourth quarter and Nowitzki had three of them, two in the final 90 seconds. After his fast start, Terry was mostly a non-factor in the second half and finished with 20. Shawn Marion, who could not have been in better position to stop Durant on the final shot, had 17 points, canning three 3s and grabbing eight rebounds.

Jason Kidd, coming off a week's rest set a career playoff high with seven steals. He needed one more.

The Mavs got everything they could have wanted in the first half, save for better shooting from Nowitzki (4-11, 10 points). They dominated both ends of the boards (OKC owned a 45-40 average advantage in four regular season games), held a 7-2 edge in second-chance points, led in fastbreak points and more than doubled OKC's free throw attempts (11-5), perhaps the most important stat to track in this series. In four regular-season games, the free throw edge for OKC was 31-19 a game.

What it means: The Mavs head into the off-day knowing they blew a significant opportunity to pile major pressure onto the shoulders of the young Thunder. That's now three games at OKC this season that Dallas had in its grasp but couldn't close out. Meanwhile, the Thunder know they got away with one and can put the defending champs in an unenviable hole with a win Monday night.

Bold Play of the game: This play will get lost in the remarkable finish, but with 8:25 to go, Ian Mahinmi had the ball under the bucket and position for a slam that would have put Dallas up, 80-73. But Kevin Durant made a huge block and two minutes later, the score was tied at 80-80.

Stat of the game: The Mavs remained winless this season on the road against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better. They're now 0-13.