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NBA Playoffs: Incredible comeback has Dallas one game from the NBA Finals

May 24, 2011, 1:38 AM EST

dirk-game-4

The Thunder had this.

They did just about everything they had to do from the opening tip to secure a series-evening victory against Dallas in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

OKC jumped out to a fast start, got a superstar-level performance from its best player, and played active team defense for the vast majority of the game. The team built a lead of 15 points with 5:06 to play after what seemed like a dagger of a three-pointer at the time from Kevin Durant.

But then, and so quickly, it all came crashing down. Dallas finished regulation on a blistering 17-2 run to send it into overtime, and finished the comeback it started by pulling off an incredible 112-105 victory to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.

A slow start doomed the Thunder in Game 3, so they made sure to begin strong in this one. Oklahoma City came out firing, and made its first nine shots, on the way to an early double-digit lead. But Dallas was able to hang around thanks to 22 first-half points from Dirk Nowitzki, and after shooting almost 67 percent from the field in the second quarter, the Mavs trailed by just five at the break.

The Thunder continued to play well, however, all the way up until that fateful point in the fourth. They were aggressive defensively, and were absolute monsters on the glass, particularly on the offensive end, where they grabbed 20 rebounds compared to just five for Dallas.

But things fell apart late for Oklahoma City, seemingly right at the point when backup playmaker James Harden fouled out of the game. From 4:34 left in the fourth until the final overtime buzzer, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder 26-6.

All of a sudden, the ball movement stopped for the Thunder offensively. Shawn Marion forced Durant into difficult, heavily-contested shots. Russell Westbrook forced shots, but the blame for the collapse is far from his — there was plenty of standing around by his teammates, and the team defense of the Mavericks was simply outstanding.

And of course, there was the play of Nowitzki.

Dirk has been simply incredible this postseason, and he finished this one with his second performance of 40 points or more in this series. He had 11 of his team’s final 13 points in regulation to close the gap, scoring on a variety of ridiculously tough shots over the tight and largely solid defense of Nick Collison.

As good as Nowitzki and the Mavs were during that huge fourth quarter run, the Thunder had two chances at the end of regulation to seal it, but the execution on those possessions was just atrocious.

The first play came out of a timeout with Oklahoma City still leading by two. There was actually player movement on this possession as the team got into a set play, but the only shot the Thunder were able to get was a corner three-point attempt from Thabo Sefolosha.

The look was clean, and the pass from Durant was a good one in that situation. But it’s unconscionable with the game, and maybe the series on the line that coming out of a timeout, something can’t be drawn up to get the ball into your best player’s hands for something that resembles a decent shot.

On the Thunder’s following possession with the game tied and 6.4 seconds remaining in regulation, they got it to Durant this time, only they did so more than 30 feet from the basket. Durant panicked, and launched a contested three that Marion got a piece of, and to overtime we went.

Jason Kidd and Nowitzki finished things off once they got there, and will likely do the same to the Thunder on Wednesday in Game 5. Only this time, it will be for good, and the veterans will head to the NBA Finals, while the youngsters head home to try to learn from the experience.

Give all the credit in the world to Dallas, but really, it’s too bad for Oklahoma City. True, it’s a young and inexperienced team that has suffered from below average coaching in this series, especially on the offensive end of the floor. But with a 15-point lead, at home, with under five minutes remaining?

The Thunder had this.

  1. jjared1101 - May 24, 2011 at 1:45 AM

    The Thunder had this.

    ———-

    And Dirk took it from them.

  2. aqzi - May 24, 2011 at 1:52 AM

    I wonder if Scotty Brooks will be on the hot seat if the Thunder lose the next one. The offense was just plain horrible, especially coming out of timeouts.

    And wow was Dirk good.

  3. joshdisotell - May 24, 2011 at 1:59 AM

    So is this gonna be all the talk on tuesday? Okc choked and dallas D had no say in it? Yes, obviously okc kicked dallas butts for 43 minutes, but that want long enough. but when kidd is getting steals, chandler and marion are getting blocks, and players are settling for just plain bad shots , defense deserves some cred. And D in the NBA is only good if it produces offense, and dallas provided that when it mattered most. DIRK FOR MVP!!!

  4. dwighthowardisamazing - May 24, 2011 at 2:01 AM

    the thunder are a young team, someday they will be more experienced in these types of situations and come through them on the other side. however, the mavs did have an amazing finish.

  5. passerby23 - May 24, 2011 at 2:19 AM

    There’s no better example than that game for what experience can do for you in the playoffs. OKC probably blew their best and only chance to stay alive in this series. It’s tough to imagine them winning two in Dallas, let alone how good Dallas has been on the road. Worse still, it’s hard to imagine OKC being able to get up after for Game 5 after such a letdown. We are gearing up for a Mavs-Heat rematch of ’06.

  6. delius1967 - May 24, 2011 at 2:25 AM

    I can’t help but think that, if the Lakers had executed such a comeback, what we’d be hearing about is how clutch Kobe is and how you can’t beat championship experience. It’s been a recurring theme here to not so much credit the Mavericks as to blame their opponents for losing.

    Having said that, as a Dallas fan, I feel pretty bad about this victory, especially for Durant, who really is a good kid. (Less so for Westbrook who seems to be more in the “me first” player mold that has plagued the NBA for the last 10-15 years.) You like to say “he’s only 22, he’ll have more chances in the future” but you never know, do you?

    I don’t see how the Thunder come back from this. They are too young to recover from such a crushing blow. Dallas will likely win big on Wednesday to close out the series.

  7. Justin - May 24, 2011 at 2:51 AM

    Dirk was just unstoppable in the 4th quarter. He went from making me think he was gonna cost them the game to taking it over and putting them back in it. I have to say dallas’ defense looks good against the thunder especially Durant. I think maybe the Thunder will take 1 in dallas but that seems kinda iffy now.

    (Click on my name to check out my sports blog or google Minnesporta)

  8. bittersonicsfan - May 24, 2011 at 6:36 AM

    I’m starting to think that Kendrick Perkins isn’t as valuable as everyone thinks. When he got traded I thought Oklahoma was going to dominate even more than they already were. Nick Collison has proved to be the right guy in important situations, he’s not an offensive liability nor a force, but he doesn’t make mistakes or call timeouts at silly moments. Pay the man!

    • philiplewis1 - May 24, 2011 at 8:53 AM

      Kendrick Perkins has to be the biggest “punk” in the NBA at the moment. He’s obviously going after Chandler on every play trying to bait him into losing his cool and doing something stupid. Chandler has done a pretty good job of not letting it get to him but Perkins needs to somehow be stopped by the officials. Every time down the floor he “accidentally” runs into Chandler or “accidentally” falls into him. I watched Perkins some in high school and he was a punk then as well with mostly a lot of size and average basketball skills. One of the great mismatches of all time was watching Chris Bosh run circles around Perkins in the Texas 4A state championship game when Bosh was a senior and Perkins a junior in high school.

    • davidly - May 24, 2011 at 9:31 AM

      Conventional pundit-dom has said that both the Thunder as well as the Celtics were trying to unseat the Lakers with that move. What little wisdom I have tells me that – for this season, at least – both teams would have been better off without the trade.

    • passerby23 - May 24, 2011 at 11:33 AM

      The trade for Perkins was done with the belief that the road to the finals goes through LA. As currently constructed, they weren’t in a position to hang with the Laker bigs. With Perkins against LA, I think that’s where you would see the benefit. Against Dallas, Dirk is a matchup problem and you need quicker perimeter defenders on him so Perkins is seeing less minutes. Of greater concern is that Perkins just doesn’t give them the offense and shooting they need against Dallas, the same problem which would’ve occurred for the Celtics against the Heat.

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