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NBA Playoffs: Slow start dooms Thunder as Mavericks roll in Game 3

May 22, 2011, 1:04 AM EDT


After stealing home-court advantage from the Mavericks with a win in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, one would think the Thunder would have come out firing once the series shifted to Oklahoma City, ensuring that the victory they worked so hard to get on the road wouldn’t be immediately wasted. But it was Dallas who was the aggressor in Game 3, jumping out to a huge early lead that they would never relinquish.

The Mavericks led by as many as 17 in the first quarter, and 23 in the second, before hanging on for a 93-87 win that put them back ahead in the series.

“Tonight, we played championship-level defense for the first time in the series,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said afterward, in a news conference streamed live on “And now, the challenge is to sustain.”

Dallas jumped on the Thunder from the start, and made shots at a 51.2 percent clip in the first half while taking a 16-point lead into the break. Dirk Nowitzki had little to do with it, however, scoring just four points as Shawn Marion did the early damage offensively.

Nowitzki finished with 18, but he was hounded all night by the aggressive defensive play of Nick Collison, who was allowed to be overly-physical with little restrictions from the officials.

Carlisle was complimentary of Collison’s defense afterward, but did point out that it may have, at times, been more physical than the rules would normally allow.

“In terms of legal limits, I believe the line may be crossed at times,” Carlisle said. “But if so, then the league will see that.”

While Nowitzki was held in check, Dallas got productive performances from seven of its players. It was far too much for the Thunder to overcome, on a night when Kevin Durant was cold (missing 15 of 22 from the field), and no one on the team outside of he and Russell Westbrook were able to crack double figures.

Westbrook bounced back as expected in this one, after being benched for the entire fourth quarter of Game 2. Depending on who you believe, the relegation to the bench was either because of the reserves rolling at the time, or a blown play that pushed his coach over the edge.

In Game 3, there were no such issues. Westbrook was attacking hard all night, going to the basket again and again on his way to a game-high 30-point performance.

Oklahoma City made its run late, but the 23-point first-half deficit was too much to overcome. The Thunder pulled to within six with 3:20 to play, but missed two wide-open looks from 3-point range (one from Westbrook, one from Daequan Cook) that could of made things interesting. But on a night when the team finished 1-for-17 from beyond the arc, perhaps OKC should have tried a different approach.

It has to be disappointing for the Thunder that they missed so many shots early and dug themselves such a huge hole in such an important game. As we look ahead to Game 4, getting off to a strong start is just one of the things they’ll need to concern themselves with.

Containing Nowitzki again will be a tall task, especially if Carlisle’s (relatively tame) comments about the way Collison is being allowed to play him end up affecting the officiating. Durant will need to regain his scoring touch, and OKC will need a large helping of the “good” Westbrook if the team is to counter the depth of Dallas and the way the Mavs execute beautifully on the offensive end of the floor.

In short, the Thunder will need to be the aggressor from the very start Monday. Otherwise, this series could be over in five.

  1. delius1967 - May 22, 2011 at 1:31 AM

    This game was an OFFICIATING TRAVESTY. The guys in stripes were doing everything they could to keep the Thunder in this game, especially in the fourth quarter, when Nowitzki was getting two or three hits on him almost every time he touched the ball, with not a whistle to be heard.

    Oklahoma City shot exactly twice as many free throws as Dallas did (36-18) and point-wise were +18 at the line. In the fourth quarter, the Mavericks did not even attempt a free throw until there was just 33 seconds left in the game; at that point, the Thunder had already shot 12! The only reason Dallas was shooting even then was because OKC had to intentionally foul.

    If Dallas had lost this game, it would have been a sham on the level of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, Game 6, or the 2006 Finals, Game 3. It is just fortunate that Dallas was able to overcome such obviously biased refereeing. What stinks is that they basically have to sit back and take it; any comments from Cuban (which would be richly deserved) would just be more fuel for the league to screw the Mavericks over yet again.

    • jjared1101 - May 22, 2011 at 2:10 AM

      As a Mavericks fan, this game was very hard to watch. Getting the lead cut down with each free throw, seeing Dallas make good defensive stands only to have OKC get bailed out was a very helpless feeling.

      Going in to OKC, I knew that they would probably have the advantage on the line, but wow. Just glad they could win the game and steal back home court advantage. Maybe Dallas can get a few more calls on Monday.

  2. ezwriter69 - May 22, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    “missed two wide-open looks from 3-point range (one from Westbrook, one from Daequan Cook) that could of made things interesting” ….What a crock… first of all, it’s could have, not could of, you write like a six year old. Second, there were 16 and 18 seconds left on both of those possessions, and the shots were from well behind the line and with a hand in the face… and the next possession was a reckless out of control drive by Westbrook who wound up dribbling it off his leg out of bounds. Three possessions and two horribly ill-advised unnecessary shots (with three minutes left down by six and 0 for 17 from three for the night, those weren’t open looks those were ridiculously bad shots) and a horrible turnover.
    The Thunder show NO poise, no execution, and no discipline during crunch time; it’s not ALL Westbrook, but mostly. Ugly, ugly basketball, they look like an eighth grade team, and a bad one… typical of USA basketball, no coaching, no execution, the one and done has destroyed USA basketball, it’s ugly, it’s pathetic, it makes me want to hurl. So much talent, so little professionalism. Ugly.

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