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NBA Playoffs: Fittingly Mavericks’ execution sends them to finals

May 26, 2011, 12:56 AM EDT

Mavericks' players celebrate against the Thunder during Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Final basketball playoff in Dallas

It was fitting. Maybe it was the only way it could be, with Dallas coming from behind again. Game 5 was a microcosm of the four before it in the Western Conference finals.

Oklahoma City came out and played with energy and passion. Their amazing athleticism caused problems for Dallas, but the Mavericks countered with savvy, good execution of sets and seemingly a different guy every night (Wednesday it was Shawn Marion’s turn). Dirk Nowitzki seemingly never missed (26 points on 15 shots), but still it was Oklahoma City with a healthy lead in the fourth.

Then, when the pressure really stepped up in the end, Dallas executed their plays while Oklahoma City made the mistakes of youth (like seven fourth-quarter turnovers). The result was a 100-96 win for the Mavericks that gives them a 4-1 series win and sends them to the franchise’s second NBA finals (the last was a loss to the Heat five years ago).

After a devastating loss in Game 4, many may have expected the Thunder to roll over and get this over with (like the Lakers did last series in the closeout game). But if you thought that, you don’t know this Thunder team.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, they all are old-school basketball warriors. They respect themselves and the game too much to fold like that.

And coach Scott Brooks had one wrinkle left — he went small. For long stretches the Thunder went with some smaller groupings, such as a lineup of Eric Maynor with Westbrook as the guards, Harden and Durant as the forwards and Nick Collison as center. That lineup played the entire fourth quarter.

“I knew that to win this game we had to keep moving (the Mavericks’) feet, and we put as much quickness on the floor as we could,” Brooks said afterward.

Westbrook seemed to thrive in it and he finished with 31 points and eight rebounds, some of them key ones at the end. It seemed to throw Dallas off-balance on defense, and the Thunder were getting some of the transition points they needed.

It all was a key reason the Thunder had an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter.

But going small had a couple of drawbacks, and the Mavericks eventually adjusted and made them pay for it. Like they had been doing all series.

One drawback is that Durant is not a particularly good pick-and-roll defender and he kept getting drawn into that play. It was just part of the reason J.J. Barea had 14 points and five assists on another huge night.

The other thing is going small makes it hard to rebound. Especially because Dallas coach Rick Carlisle refused to play along with Oklahoma City — he kept in a big lineup.

Dallas took the lead when Westbrook lost the ball going for a defensive rebound, it came out and Dallas ended up with the offensive board, four guys touched it in quick succession then Nowitzki drained a 3-pointer.

Then, with the Thunder down two and less than 24 seconds on the clock, Oklahoma City needed one more stop and a basket to send it to overtime. The Thunder forced Nowitzki to miss, but Marion was able to out-jump every Thunder player on the floor and tip it out to Jason Kidd, who passed to Nowitzki and then it was all over but for the fouls and the free throws.

That was just part of a monster game for Marion, who had 26 points on 17 shots, plus eight rebounds.

In the end, Dallas executed while the Thunder made crucial mistakes down the stretch. The Thunder had just six turnovers in the first three quarters but seven in the fourth quarter alone. Like all series, the Thunder looked like a team where all its key players are younger than 22 when it got late in games.

“Their time will come, but it’s not now,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said in his postgame interview broadcast on NBA TV.

It’s not, right now is the Mavericks time.

The Mavericks have the best player in the playoffs. They have a deep team where somebody different is stepping up every game. They have good defense. They have fantastic end-of-game execution.

They will have a chance to prove just how good they are one more time against the Miami Heat in the finals.

  1. Justin - May 26, 2011 at 1:07 AM

    I think one of the reasons Dallas is so good is their defensive versatility. For a while they had a line with Barea, Kidd, Marion, Dirk and Chandler. They do a lot of smart things putting different defenders on Durant and the Maynor and Westbrook combo could have killed them more but Kidd and Barea were holding their own.

  2. passerby23 - May 26, 2011 at 1:14 AM

    The thing Dallas will have going for them against the Heat is that Miami won’t use a dominant point guard to attack J.J. Barea with. Dirk should once again be a matchup problem for the Heat. With a short bench, will Chris Bosh get in foul trouble trying to defend him?

    I think a concern for Dallas is that Miami doesn’t make the late game blunders that the Thunder made. They will make big shots. Should be a competitive series. Assuming Miami doesn’t lose a player to injury before their series is out, I like the Heat to win in 6 (as much as I would hate to see it).

  3. zrbk - May 26, 2011 at 1:17 AM

    Bring on the Heat. Reverse 2006. At least show them how strong the Mavs are now.

  4. bittersonicsfan - May 26, 2011 at 1:29 AM

    If the Heat are able to close the Bulls out, this is going to a great finals. I love both teams. On one hand I want Kidd and Nowitzki to win one before this big three thing takes the NBA over. And on the other hand I want to see Miami win it because of all the word turds people took on them all year. May the best team win! Even if it’s the Bulls!

  5. edweird0 - May 26, 2011 at 1:35 AM

    ’06 Repeat all the way baby! This is going to be a incredible finals, I can’t wait. As a Miamian I want nothing more than for Miami to bring that title back home but it truly is a shame that Dirk won’t get a ring this year, I have the utmost respect for that guy and lord knows he deserves it but this is just the beginning of a new era of domination. Really is such a shame….

    • md23rewlz - May 26, 2011 at 2:35 AM

      A new era of domination? Really? Well, good luck with that. You saw what happened when Kevin Durant slapped on the championship belt prematurely…

  6. balleriq - May 26, 2011 at 7:44 AM

    Great series, the Mavs just look so poised right now, unbelievable how cohesive they are and how someone always steps up when another is struggling. But seriously though, Dirk isn’t the best player in the playoffs right now, hes the most efficient offensive player in the playoffs sure, but the best? Basketball is more than just jacking up shots on one end of the floor, and thats really the only strength Dirk has, how bout the defensive end too? Lebron plays both ends of the floor, for 40+ mins a game, and he defends the primary offensive threats of the opposing team (not saying he can stop Dirk though, cause no one can really) but he plays both floors is my point. “The decision” is, and will be for awhile, the reason Lebron won’t get much love or credit, thats fair I guess, it was ridiculous, but you can’t overlook what he does just cause you hate him.

  7. redbear18 - May 26, 2011 at 7:48 AM

    Miami better not win the finals, or else the GMs and owners will see you can buy a championship, the stars will all split, and the league will just have 5 or 6 “super”teams that are the only ones that have a chance of winning a title. Miami wins, and everybody loses.

    • passerby23 - May 26, 2011 at 12:26 PM

      Easier said than done. A lot of things have to fall into place to make it work. For starters, Miami has two of the top five players in the league in their backcourt, and a top 10 PF. That’s not easy to just buy up. Second of all, the cap space has to be available, which means other guys can’t be under contract. Miami was in an amazingly fortuitous position to be able to do that. Then you need there to be no injuries, find the right chemistry, and role players who are willing to accept their roles. It’s not easy to get a Mike Miller to do that.

      I think the closest thing to that is if Chris Paul or Dwight Howard were to become a Knick or Laker.

  8. JackLeone - May 26, 2011 at 8:48 AM

    Now Lebron will get a chance to show Okc what they did wrong

    • chicago240 - May 26, 2011 at 9:42 AM

      Nowitzski ain’t no Joakim Noah. A 7 footer with an outside shot, decent hands, and doesn’t drop the ball when driving to the basket. I’m not aware of anyone on Miami that can contain him when he wants to take over. Mind you, I hope the Bulls rally to win some of these close games they’ve imploded on, but I’m not hopeful.

  9. davidly - May 26, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    I couldn’t help but notice that Perkins had yet another monster game.

  10. edweird0 - May 26, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    @redbear18 HELLOOOOOOOO have you been living under a rock for the last couple decades? It’s ALWAYS been like that. Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, Thunder, Knicks, and of course MIAMI. There’s always going to be 5 or 6 great teams that dominate the league. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

  11. edweird0 - May 26, 2011 at 10:21 AM

    @md23rewlz Really? This is news to me. Durant is one of the most humble guys in this league so idk where you come off saying something like that.

    • twynns08 - May 26, 2011 at 1:45 PM

      Just putting my two cents in but md23rewlz in right! i wanna say it was in game for when he hit the tree that put em up 15. He turned and did what i call the “aaron rogers” imaginary championship belt around the waist. Maybe “Newport dirk” seen him do it and thats the reason he went off!! I call him “Newport Dirk” because he be killing his man just like cigarettes haha!!

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