Dallas Mavericks' best not enough
The defending champs fought hard but couldn't overcome Thunder's rising trio
They scrambled. They fought. They even built a 13-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 4 -- and it still wasn't enough.
The Mavs were dismissed from the playoffs without winning a game for the first time in franchise history -- 329 days after winning the franchise's first title.
Ironic, isn't it?
Oklahoma City 103, Dallas 97.
Just so you know, moral victories don't exist for teams defending titles -- nor should they.
The Mavs hold themselves to a high standard, as they should, which is why there's no way to avoid using the word embarrassment when discussing their playoff performance.
They whined about the officiating too much. They consistently fell apart at winning time. And they didn't have anyone other than Dirk Nowitzki capable of consistently scoring.
So we're reduced to talking about their effort, which was supreme in Game 4.
During the third quarter -- their best of the series -- the Mavs seemed determined to make at least one more hour-long flight to Oklahoma City. They outscored the Thunder 34-21 and led by 13 entering the fourth quarter.
Jason Terry, harassed much of the series, drilled a 3-pointer from the wing, pushing the Mavs' lead to 86-73 with 9:44 left.
Then the Mavs collapsed. Once again.
Or James Harden took over.
It probably depends on your perspective. Less than four minutes later, the score was tied at 88-88.
At that point, we all knew Oklahoma City was going to win.
Three games in this series were decided in the game's final three minutes. The Mavs lost each one.
In the regular season, three of their four games against Oklahoma City were decided in the final two minutes. The Mavs lost each one.
Oklahoma City has beaten the Mavs six consecutive times and seven of eight this season.
This series wasn't about a blown call here or there. Or a lucky shot by Kevin Durant. Or the basketball gods.
It was about a team with three young stars -- Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden -- learning how to win after obsessing over their 4-1 series loss to the eventual champions last season.
And it was about an aging Mavs' team with eight players in their 30s fading when it mattered most because keeping up with the youngsters for three quarters required so much energy and concentration.
"We left it all on the floor," Dirk said. "If we had come back here 1-1, we would've had a chance, but we had two heartbreaking losses and then we picked a bad time to have one of our worst games of the season."
Oklahoma City is younger, faster, quicker and better than the Mavs. You could make the argument pretty easily that Dirk is the only player who could start for the Thunder.
Nowitzki and Terry were the only Mavs to score 20 points in this series. Dirk had two 30-point games and another with 25. Terry scored 20 in Game 1.
Terry, the Mavs' second-best offensive player, scored 18 points and made 8 of 9 shots in the first half of Game 1. In the last 3.5 games, he totaled just 37 points and made only 12 of 35 shots.
Westbrook shut him down by either denying him the ball or preventing him from getting to his sweet spots on the floor. And when the Mavs set screen after screen for Jet, Westbrook fought through each of them.
He made Jet a nonfactor, something LeBron James failed to do in the NBA Finals last season.
The Thunder won because they have multiple offensive weapons. Four different players scored at least 20 points in a game.
Westbrook scored a game-high 28 in Game 1 and had 29 in Game 2, Durant had a game-high 31 in Game 3 and Harden had a team-high 29 in Game 4. Their top three offensive players combined for eight games of 20 points or more -- not including Serge Ibaka's 22-point performance in Game 1.
And they do it different ways.
Westbrook is a speedster who gets into the lane anytime he wants. Durant hangs around the perimeter and Harden excels at the pick-and-roll. Each regularly gets to the free throw line, making them efficient scorers for the most part.
"We need guys who can make plays for themselves," Nowitzki said. "The elite teams have two or three guys to go to offensively. They had more weapons than us."
It showed in the fourth quarter, when the Mavs routinely collapsed and the Thunder thrived.
The Mavs' reign is over. It was fun while it lasted.