All-Access: Mavs Over OKC As History Is Made
FOREWARD: There are times in a storyteller's life when he knows words simply cannot do enough to ever fully capture a moment, when the knowledge that even a string of salient and clever thoughts spilled within salient and clever sentences would simply wilt in the face of the truth he is seeking to share.
Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals is just such an occasion.
We are not worthy. But we must try.
It all started so innocently, with DB.com down on the OKC arena floor with Dirk and TY ...
No storm clouds yet.
But then ... Despite being down 99-84 with five minutes to play, being out-rebounded 48-to-22 at one point late in the fourth, the Mavs would not die, would not yield to overwhelming odds and MavVirus muscle memory that screamed they had no chance. Instead, this team – not "The Same Ol'Mavs'' but THIS TEAM -- rode an uncharacteristic defense and a completely characteristic Dirk Nowitzki (12 points in the final 4:33 of regulation) and a 17-2 run to send the game into overtime, where it would ultimately prevail … taking a commanding 3-1 series lead.
THE TOP STORY: "The Comeback.'' "Chokelahoma.'' "The Red River Rally.''
It deserves a name.
Let us first set the stage: thanks to ESPNStats, we know that no team in the last 15 years has come back to win a game in the playoffs when trailing by 15-or-more points with five minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter.
Through 43 minutes, the Oklahoma City Thunder was doing everything right. They were destroying the Mavs on the boards, they were moving the ball, outworking, out-hustling, out-desiring and out-playing a team in Dallas that looked more than willing to return home with the series tied at two apiece.
With 5:05 to play, Kevin Durant mercilessly drained a 3 to push the OKC lead to 15. And the OKC celebration began. The Western Conference Finals were going to be tied 2-all. Durant knew it, knew it so assuredly that he broke from character and morphed into LeBron the LeClown ... He grinned. He played to the manic crowd. And he pretended to strap to his waist a championship belt.
A pretend, invisible, championship belt.
Then, in a blink –as if God and Laura Miller and everybody wanted to mete out punishment for premature partying -- everything changed.
With a slap that must have connected directly with the brain, Oklahoma City was reminded that thunder is merely a limb of the storm … and the Mavs were still capable of being at the helm this particular storm. With Dirk Nowitzki leading the way, it was soon to be the unleashing of something almost supernatural.
It began innocuously enough, when Shawn Marion hit a pair of free throws while drawing the fifth foul called against James Harden. Fifteen seconds later, Harden picked up his sixth foul, forcing his way to the bench and allowing Dirk to the line … the water began to trickle down.
Dirk missed his second attempt; a rarity in its own right … still, the trickle began to gather momentum.
Perhaps showing their immaturity, the Thunder once again sent a Mavs team (still struggling to find points) to the line. This time it was Jason Kidd calmly sinking a pair of free throws. With 3:48 to play, the Mavs were within 10 … and what was a trickle became a flow.
With 3:15 on the clock, Dirk found his footing from the floor, hitting a tough jumper and with an unseen flip of some internal switch, greatness was set free of its chains inside The UberMan … and the storm was at hand, crashing down with a crushing silence.
Dirk then hit a three with 2:21 to play, pulling the Mavs within seven. Oklahoma City was shaken, on their heels and at the mercy of the big German. With two minutes to play, he used a one-handed-side-released shot around Nick Collison to decimate whatever will may have lingered on, cutting the lead to five … a tropical storm Dirk now pelted the court.
Once again, Dirk would attack ... put Collison on his hip, turn back and lean away … the lead was down to three.
After Marion split a pair of free throws, and with six seconds remaining on the clock, Collison would wrap a cutting Dirk around the waist with his arm, granting to chance to erase the frustrations of a 43 minutes of bad basketball and tie the game at the free-throw line. Forever silencing those that would seek to call him anything outside of clutch, Nowitzki hit both attempts and the game was tied at 101 with six seconds to play … Tropical Storm Dirk was quickly upgraded to full-fledged trouble as OKC trembled.
But, OKC and Kevin Durant would have one more chance in regulation to put the game away. With one second on the clock, Durant would rise to be the hero, to deny what had been a valiant comeback from Dallas, and sink the 3 from 27 feet out … only Shawn Marion climbed every inch before him, met the ball at the release and turned away the last squeal of noise from a Thunder team now sinking deep into a state of shock.
"We took them out of any and everything possible they wanted to do in that last stretch,'' ‘Trix said. "They couldn't get nothing."
In overtime, you could read the end on the faces, in the bodies and in the actions of the Thunder. Only five minutes ago, they had been celebrating tying the series at two games apiece. The stitches connecting that moment in time to this could not be traced. Their eyes were wide and searched for answers that wouldn't come.
They'd been washed away by the storm of a 17-2 Dallas run to close regulation in a tie, and we know what transpired from there: the Mavs put the game away.
PART OF WHAT MAKES DIRK, DIRK: Just after completing the improbable comeback, ESPN reporter Doris Burke found Dirk on the court for a quick interview. She let him know that Jeff Van Gundy had labeled his performance "legendary," and here was his response:
"For some reason in this series I can't get a rebound," Dirk said. "You know, I'm averaging like four rebounds in this series, but other than that, had a good shooting rhythm from the beginning. Guys found me in my spots and I was able to shoot over him some, so that was great, but a lot of credit to Jason Kidd. I mean, his defensive battle, made the big three there in overtime that really put us over the top."
People (ahem, Chris Webber) want to trash Dirk when he is too generous with his praise of opponents or credit to teammates, choosing he'd rather not go out of his way to ensure others see his greatness, but this is part of what makes him great.
When faced with an ultimate compliment, he points out his deficiencies in the series (rebounding) and deflects some of the praise to a teammate.
The fact is that his performance was legendary, but he doesn't need to tell you that, at least not with words. If you see it? Great. If you don't? Great. Dirk isn't playing for your adulation. He's playing for a Title.
Nowitzki finished with 40 points on 12-of-20 shooting and five rebounds, including 12 points in the fourth quarter.
His biggest statistical quarter may have been the second, when he had 17 points on 5-of-5 shots, but the close stood tallest … including two free throws 17 seconds into overtime that gave Dallas their first lead of the night.
"That's as good as it gets,'' Dirk said.
THOUGH HE SHONE THE BRIGHTEST, HE WASN'T ALONE: This was Dirk's show, but he didn't go it alone. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry were there to make sure their star didn't make his push for naught.
Jason Kidd deserves his own pedestal here. In fact, if they ever erect a Dirk statue at the AAC (we strongly recommend The One-Legged Euro Lean-Back look) maybe right next to it can be a tribute to Kidd.
Maybe a bronze brain? Or maybe a painting of a 3-point line, with a marble big toe positioned all-too-closely to it?
Before the series, we predicted that Dallas would benefit from having the experience of Kidd's cool hand in the most pressure filled moments. (This was before we were completely convinced that the only reason Russell Westbrook and Jason Kidd should play PG together is if the former has volunteered to tutor the latter.) Removing what appears to be the anomaly of Game 2, this has proven to be true.
In overtime, with the Thunder almost dead on their feet, but still hanging around in a game tied at 105-105, it was Kidd who came up with one of the biggest defensive plays of the game (can't say it was the biggest thanks to Marion's block on Durant with one second to play in the fourth) by stripping Durant and forcing a turnover.
He followed this up by setting up behind the arc, watching as Russell Westbrook sailed by him, contesting a shot that had yet to be launched, flirting with the idea of leaning in for contact, deciding against it, and deftly letting go a 3 – toe precariously near the black, natch -- that would put Dallas up for good.
With one play at each end of the court he had put the game away. He had made certain that Dirk's heroics would not fall coldly into the column of "what if."
Kidd's final stats: 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals.
This wasn't the best statistical game of the series for the Matrix. He ended with only seven points on 1-of-5 shooting and four rebounds, though he did tack on four steals and one monumental block.
Yet, when his team needed him most, he stepped up his game, took control at the defensive end of the floor and did what he absolutely had to do if a victory was to be claimed.
Said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle of ‘Trix: "It's become clear to Shawn exactly what we need from him. Tenacity. Durant needs to be wearing him like a suit. Offensively, whatever comes, comes. But Kevin Durant needs defensive attention.''
Said Carlisle of Kidd: "Never underestimate greatness.''
And Jet? He does his own talking.
A BIT OF TURBULENCE, BUT THE JET MADE IT HOME: Jason Terry began the game looking like a player coming off of two poor performances (21 points on 6-of-21 shots in the previous two games combined) and pressing the issue a bit too hard.
At the half, Terry had more turnovers (3) than made field goals (2) and had made as many poor decisions as positive plays. Eventually, he would get on track and finish with 20 much needed points, five rebounds, four steals … and would not commit a turnover in the second half or overtime.
"There's times and situations that are going to test the courage and the mental inner strength of your team," said Terry. "This was one of those times.''
CRIMINAL INTENT: We do not believe Kendrick Perkins has effectively made a basketball play in this entire series. But his muggings of Tyson Chandler and others (including an elbow to the testicles of a driving DeShawn Stevenson) count as contributions -- are criminal.
Brendan Haywood was assessed a Flagrant for hammering a driving KD. He was punished for the violation – the sort of violation basketball bylaws encourage a player to absorb.
But Perkins' crotch ‘bows? His baiting of Tyson Chandler? His rubbing of a foot over the body of a fallen Dirk?
Tyson and Terry, especially, must control themselves from retaliation. (Both of them failed to do so here).
In the end, Dallas will win the series and Kendrick Perkins' face will fade from memory. (Or maybe not, because that face is … er … distinctive.. But some of OKC's foolishness is rather embarrassing … and yes, we're including the apparent "accidental'' spilling of water onto the court during Dirk's last-second trip to the line, which stalled play in a way meant to possibly "ice'' shooter Nowitzki.
It didn't work. It wasn't bothersome to Dallas; Dirk went to the ref to say "It's the old trick'' only AFTER he made both shots. But it ought to be bothersome to the NBA.
QUOTABLE: What they are saying …
*"It was almost over,''said Dirk. "If we mess up one more time (in the final five minutes), that would've been it. We couldn't afford any mistakes down the stretch ... We were almost perfect.''
* We have a never-give-up attitude.'' – Tyson.
Want more from TY?
MAVSELLANEOUS: Dirk Nowitzki moved passed James Worthy and is now in18th place on the playoff scoring list (3,028 points). … Do the resilient OKC kids bounce back, with their record of 26-7 after a loss? A lot of those wins came during a regular season in which the atmosphere wasn't quite what it will be Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Game 5 at the AAC, you know? ... And a reader notes that OKC has now played 9 games in 17 days. Hard to keep bouncin'. … We'd predicted that Dallas would use full-court pressure as a clock-eater, not really thinking it would force OKC into bad decisions. In the end, Westy and KD combined for 15 turnovers. We were wrong ... Can we take this as a verification of the value of BBIQ? ... Dirk scored 40 total, 38 in regulation. Dallas fell behind in the first because Dirk only got enough opportunity to score five. Dallas came back in the second as he scored 17. A bit of trouble in the third when his total dipped to four. But then 12 in the fourth, Dirk scored 10 points in about three minutes as Dallas pulled to within three with 1:26 left. Nowitzki deserves credit for being the hub of this wheel; at this point, the only time he doesn't score is when a teammate mistakenly doesn't feed him. ... Dallas never led this game until it really mattered – in OT. ... We're still not sure why, when Kidd called timeout at 1.3 seconds after ‘Trix's block, the zebras only allowed 0.7 seconds to remain on the clock for Dallas' unsuccessful late lob. But ifthat's all we have to blame Danny Crawford for, we're cool. ... Speaking of which: Dallas is 2-0 this postseason when nemesis Crawford works. The Mavs are 9-1 in their last 10. They've won five straight road games. "Same Ol' Mavs'' our butts.
THE IMPORTANCE OF JAMES HARDEN: With all due respect to Mark Jackson and the ESPN crew: What, exactly, is so important about James Harden in this series?
He had one quality game out of four, when he scored 23. Here, he seems to be the focal point for why Dallas closed so well late, as fouling out occurred in conjunction with the Mavs' run.
But we think ESPN is so caught up in this "Fear the Beard'' ridiculousness that it is failing to notice that Harden comes off the bench … replacing starter Sefalosha, who plays due to his defense. … and that Sefalosha was quite effective offensively, with 12 points – and 10 of those coming by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
So how is Harden's absence a major story when Sefalosha, playing better defense than Harden and scoring 12 points, took/kept the 2-guard spot over Harden … who had just seven points?
THE CENTER DUO: For much of the night, Tyson Chandler was flustered. He was constantly tangling with Kendrick Perkins and appeared out of his game.
When he found himself in early foul trouble, Brendan Haywood replaced him on the court and had a solid game … for the most part.
Big Wood finished with nine points, including 5-of-8 from the free-throw line, three rebounds and one block … and a hard foul on a driving Durant in the fourth quarter that drew a flagrant one.
"(Dirk) put us on his back offensively,'' Chandler says. "But it was a team effort ... Marion on defense ... we wouldn't have won the game without (backup center Brendan) Haywood ...
While we'll commend what they were able to do at times on defense, it's hard not to remember the fact that Dallas was severely out-rebounded. At one point late in the fourth, Serge Ibaka and Durant alone had more rebounds than the entire Mavs team.
The end results: OKC had 55 rebounds to only 33 for Dallas. On the offensive glass, OKC took 20 boards, compared to only five for the Mavs. Had this game ended as a loss, as it appeared it would, this margin would have been unforgiveable.
In light of the win, it's hard to harbor too much anger, but this can't carry forward if a championship is the goal … and it clearly is.
One sliver of a silver lining in this area (other than the win, of course), after being down in rebounding at one point 48-to-22, Dallas finished the game by taking 11 while allowing the Thunder only seven.
In overtime, the Mavs won the boards by out-rebounding the Thunder 5-to-3 … like we said, it's just as sliver, but it's an important sliver.
Let's add this, though, and we'll talk to coaches to confirm the possibility: Part of the early-game strategy seemed to ask TY to immediately play help-defense on every driver … and maybe that wasn't as much a centerpiece to the final minutes of defense. That sort of help defense can leave opponent rebounders unchecked … so maybe strategy plays at least a small role in the lopsided numbers.
As we said this morning on FS Southwest's postgame show, though, complaining too much about being outrebounded in a performance of this magnitude is like complaining that your girlfriend Halle Barry has a pimple on her butt.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS: Let's crunch:
*In the playoffs, Dirk has been held beneath 20 points in a game 26 times over 117 tries (including Game 4). The Mavs' record in those games is 11-15.
Seven times, he has followed one of these games by again scoring under 20 points. However, including Game 4, he has now scored at least 30 in the next game nine times, over 40 three times and at least 50 once.
The Mavs records in the game after he scores under 20 is 14-10 (he has two less chances, one from injury and one due to a series ending).
Perhaps more relevant to now, Dirk has scored under 20 points twice in the 2011 playoffs; Game 4 against the Lakers and Game 3 versus OKC. In the next game he has scored 48 and 40.
*As has been the case all series, the team that won the battle of the benches also won the game. In Game 4, the Dallas bench outscored the Thunder bench 40-to-21.
*Unfamiliar territory? The Mavs had only played one overtime game all year.
*The Mavericks mounted a 17-2 run to close regulation to gain a tie and then continued the domination in an overtime that made it a 28-6 run to close.
*Teams that go up 3-1 win series 96 percent of the time, and only twice in NBA history has a team with home-court advantage lost a 3-1 lead.
THE FINAL WORD: While, as Chandler said, "we're takin' care of business'' … This was a game the Mavericks had no business winning.
With 43 minutes of game time passed, they had been outdone in almost every possible way. OKC was already embracing the certainty of a tied series in the fourth quarter, obviously prematurely in hindsight.
Throughout the game it felt like the lead was much larger than the scoreboard showed. Even when the Mavs fell behind by 15 in the final period, it felt closer to 40. Despite how things may have felt to us, Dallas did not fade away to accept the inevitability of defeat. Instead, they moved forward and quietly kept the game within reach.
When the opportunity finally presented itself, they licked their lips and dove in headfirst, and as the dust began to settle, they found themselves at the other end of a heartbreaking press conference, being the heart breaker rather than the broken.
"They made shots. We didn't," Kevin Durant said, sadly resting his head against his fist, a few extended fingers shy of a facepalm. "Dirk Nowitzki was great, you know, making 3's, contested jump shots and they played great defense. We lost."
If you heard it, you won't forget it. As Mavs fans, you can empathize with it completely.
It hung in the air, leaving the pain and the ache to linger like thick smoke to heavy to rise from sight or slowly dissipate. It hurt to watch, to hear.
Come feel it. Join Fish, Ric Renner and Mark Followill of FS Southwest, with Earl K. Sneed ... and Kevin Durant ... plus highlights!
Yet, for this night, it isn't your bruise to wear. Your Mavs are up 3-1 and one game away from returning to the Finals.
"It's almost like watching an incredible movie and having an incredible ending in your favor,'' Chandler said. "We're on Cloud 9 right now."
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