Mavericks' intensity a generation apart

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Somewhere the Spurs, Celtics and maybe even the Lakers got a hearty chuckle at this one.

The Dallas Mavericks, representing the NBA's old guard for both conferences in perhaps that group's last stand, again came raging off the ropes to put a defensive whipping on the Oklahoma City whippersnappers.

Kevin Durant and his band of college-age hoopsters are going to have to pry this Western Conference finals from these creaky, but ever-resilient and mentally tough Mavs if 2011 is to go down as the year the oldies bow out to Generation Next.

"The last of the Mohicans," Jason Terry said. "But if you look at the last champions, they're all veteran teams."

In Saturday night's 93-87 victory -- their fourth consecutive road win for a 2-1 series lead -- the Mavs held the Thunder to 22 points below their series average and 15 under their home playoff average to move two wins away from playing for that elusive championship.

Yes, the Mavs again had to hang on for dear life after leading by 23 points -- ring a bell? But Dallas seized Game 3 with a first-quarter hijacking of frenzied Oklahoma City Arena. They combined team-wide, swarming, body-bumping defense that forced massive Kevin Durant misfires and an offense-by-committee sparked by Shawn Marion for a 21-8 lead 10 minutes in and 35-12 two minutes into the second quarter.

"In a game like this when you're playing in someone else's arena coming off a loss, you have to come out with anger and an intensity. We did that," said Terry, who couldn't buy a bucket until hitting two in the fourth quarter, including a key jumper off a curl to make it 86-78 with 2:02 to go. "Now, maintaining that level was tough. They're not just going to die, so to speak."

Dirk Nowitzki (7-of-21 shooting) struggled in lock-step with fellow superstar Durant (7-of-22). The 7-footer, 3-of-12 with eight points after three quarters, scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and six in a row as OKC made a charge driven by Russell Westbrook (14 fourth-quarter points, 30 total) and Durant (nine of his 24 in the fourth) that made it a virtual six-point game for the final 5:35.

Jason Kidd, who had 13 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals, certainly didn't forget the significance of 23 -- the lead the Mavs blew in Game 4 in Portland. They've now won eight of nine since that dark, lonely night.

"We've been here before," Kidd said. "Again, a lot of guys will probably mention what happened in Portland and understand that the game's not over until the horn blows and you've got to play for 48 minutes. We didn't panic. We kept our composure."

Kidd said no one mentioned Portland during any of the fourth-quarter timeouts. Facial expressions said enough.

"We all can look at each other," Kidd said, "and understand what's at stake."

That urgency fueled the defensive energy from the tip, answering a challenge that coach Rick Carlisle put out to the media immediately after the Game 2 loss and again the next day. OKC finished with four field goals in the first quarter and six turnovers.

Marion and DeShawn Stevenson, who topped 20 minutes for a second consecutive game, took on Durant and forced him into difficult situations. At the half, Dallas led 52-36, never allowing a Thunder run to materialize. Oklahoma City had just 16 points in the paint and shot 29.4 percent.

"Disposition," Carlisle said simply when asked the difference in the defense from Dallas to OKC. "We were more aggressive, more engaged."

Chandler said it took two games to realize how a young team with bountiful energy could attack them. That and a red-faced finish to Game 2 spurred the early defensive fury.

"It was embarrassing watching the tape and not even just Game 2 from a loss, Game 1 as well," center Tyson Chandler said. "We didn't play with the type of sense of urgency that you need to play with when you're in this situation. You can blame it on the long layover or whatever. But we're here and we need to play accordingly."

The Mavs will prepare for OKC's adjustment in Game 4 here Monday night. Before that, they'll put their aging legs up and take in Game 3 of the East finals between today's biggest stars in Miami, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who threaten to rule the basketball world for years to come, and the young MVP Derrick Rose and his rising Bulls.

"We're an old team," Kidd said, smiling. "If we didn't have these experiences by now then we'd be in trouble. It's just understanding the situation. We're not thinking ahead, we're just thinking about the moment right now."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.