What's In KD's Game 2 Backpack? A Mavs Loss
"I thought their bench really changed the game,'' Dirk Nowitzki said of the OKC subs.
Added Dallas' Tyson Chandler: "I feel like we've got the best bench in the business."
In a sense, OKC beat the Dallas Mavericks at their own game in three phases:
One, Dallas prides itself on late-game execution. But it was a dazzling fourth-quarter surge from the Thunder – which outscored the Mavs 29-24 in the period -- that kept a Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavs comeback at bay.
Two, the Mavs believe the combination of home-court advantage and veteran experience gives them a sharp edge. But the Mavs' seven-game win streak in the playoffs is now over and with Games 3 and 4 being staged up I-35 in OKC, "Now they've got all the momentum.''
And three, as TY notes, Dallas is proud of what it believes to be the NBA's deepest and best bench. But sixth man Jason Terry, who'd boasted before the series about being able to single-handedly "outperform'' the entire OKC bench and went into Game 2 saying he was "licking my chops'' at the chance to play a Thunder defense that would be focused on Dirk and not on him, managed to score just eight points.
Meanwhile, the Thunder sealed the outcome with a lineup made up of Durant and a bunch of non-starters, a smaller and less-experienced group featuring Eric Maynor running the point in place of All-NBA honoree Russell Westbrook.
Any problems with that, Russell?
"Not when we're winning,'' he said. "I'm good.''
Durant was the featured player, of course, with 24. (Indeed, he's so "featured'' in the NBA that his now-familiar post-game press-conference backpack has been revealed to be a marketing gimmick, a Nike product placement ... yes, Nike is about to sell KD backpacks.) But Daequan Cook was allowed in the game to nail a big 3. Nick Collison was in there, too, the designated guy Dallas left alone when it was scrambling and trapping, but he registered a large block on Nowitzki in the late going.
And then there was the kid James Harden, a left-handed and bearded "old soul'' who scored 23 off the Oklahoma City bench as coach Scott Brooks provided him a green light while being guarded by Terry.
Licking chops? No, right now Jet is licking wounds.
The Mavericks might argue that they simply ran out of time here in yet another high-scoring shootout. (Dallas won Game 1 by a score of 121-112, but has now given up 100-plus points in two straight games after having kept foes under the century mark in all of its 10 previous postseason games.) Nowitzki, who scored a historic 48 points in Game 1, totaled 29 here – 16 of them in the final quarter.
But he missed a free throw that allowed the Thunder to remain ahead by four with just 36.7 seconds left, a mistake that fit right in with some uncharacteristic Dallas errors in the clutch that, paired with some inspired runs by OKC, spelled problems for the home team.
The Mavs owned an early 11-point lead fueled by a series of Chandler pick-and-roll alley-oops to the rim. (TY was good for 15 points and 13 rebounds.) But it was a Durant posterization of Brendan Haywood (helping out an overmatched Peja Stojakovic) that lit one OKC fuse, as the Thunder then scored on eight straight possessions following the Durant highlight. And what was an 11-point Dallas edge with two minutes left in the first quarter because a five-point deficit three minutes into the second quarter.
OKC continued to win ends-of-quarters. The Thunder made a 3 to take a 59-57 halftime lead. Harden – who'd scored one field goal until right before the end of the third quarter, was fouled foolishly by Terry in the closing seconds and nevertheless made his 3 ... a shot that lit another fuse as Harden opened the final quarter with yet another 3 ... and then later, another ...
Meanwhile, Dallas missed layups, Dirk missed the rare free throw, Jason Kidd and Jet missed on a connection that might've been pivotal ...
"It's not one play that cost us the game,'' Terry said. "It was our all-around aggression (and failure to) maintain that for 48 minutes."
Maynor's 13 points allowed him to offset Kidd (14 points and seven assists). Cook scored eight, the same number achieved by Terry. JJ Barea was good for 11, but that means Harden single-handedly topped the Jet/JJB combo ... and in total, the OKC bench outscored the Dallas bench 50-29.
Dirk needed help and didn't get enough. He hit 7-of-10 shots in the fourth, but the rest of the Mavs were 2-of-12 (16.7 percent).
Durant needed help, too. And in that same quarter, he and his motley crew made 11-of-17 shots (64.7 percent).
What does KD really have in his backpack? He says he totes his Bible and some tech toys.
But now, the backpack he carries with him back to Oklahoma City is loaded down with a victory. … and his benchmates have helped him shoulder the load.