Game 3 All-Access: OKC 95, Dallas 79
FORWARD: Four points separated these two teams during the two games in Oklahoma City. Carried with it was disdain for the result, but a quiet optimism that the issue of a mere few bounces could be solved by coming home. Sure, the odds were stacked against teams opening series with an 0-2 deficit, but this wasn't those teams. This was a squad stacked with championship hearts and an unquestioned will.
48 minutes of basketball later, what cracks decorated the sky have been pried wide, leaving the heavens to fall and crush almost all hopes that remained. The Dallas Mavericks, the veteran squad blessed with the lessons of time, lost their composure in the first quarter after a series of questionable calls, falling behind by as much as 15.
They would fight back, but ultimately only continue to crumble as the game spun wildly out of control. The lead grew to as much as 26 in the fourth quarter and mercifully ended at 95-79 ... and a 3-0 series lead for the Thunder ... a deficit no NBA team has ever overcome.
almost could not have gone worse. Instead of an inspired, prideful defense of their home court, Dallas rolled over.
Said Jason Terry: "They kicked our ass in every facet of the game.''
WHERE TO START: Where do you start when everything goes wrong? How about where Kevin Durant's exceptional night began ... when he was gifted three wide-open looks behind the arc, draining all three. In a breath the Thunders most deadly scorer, the league's three-time reigning scoring champion, was delivered the space, freedom and time to locate what had gone astray by the hand of Shawn Marion's defense in the first two games.
Give a scorer room to find his rhythm and you get 31 points, 11-of-15 field goals, six assists, two steals and a block against only one turnover. And, it wasn't only Durant.
The Thunder hit 12-of-28 3-pointers, and we'll wager that almost all of those came with little more than a late flash-by of defensive pressure. After the final game of the regular season, we noted some troubling numbers after the all-star break for Dallas, who had allowed opponents to shoot a 45.4 field-goal percentage and score 99.1 points per game (which would have ranked 21st and 23rd in the NBA if applied to the entire season).
For the series, Dallas has allowed OKC to shoot 45 percent and score 98.7 per game ... though they are playing one of the league's best defenses, that falls eerily near those numbers for the final 32 games of the regular season.
That's being done despite the work of Shawn Marion, who offered some soft-spoken locker-room thoughts ...
This team won a championship on the back of clutch offense and opportunistic, smart defense.
In this series, they've had none of the above ... at least not with any semblance of consistency.
"I don't think we took a step forward as a team; We took a step back,'' Dirk said, speaking in the past-tense and maybe that's just a Germanglish misunderstood interpretation on our part, eh?
NOT A FIRST: Have the Mavs ever experienced this feeling before?
"Bleep) yeah,'' Jet said. "Golden State.''
More spirited cuss words from Jet here:
TROUBLING SPARK: Early in the game Vince Carter did what no other Mavericks player seemed capable of, he infused a spark of life. First with a vintage tomahawk dunk that electrified the crowd, followed by a Jason Kidd 3-pointer and one of Carter's own, and Dallas had trimmed a 15-point first-quarter deficit to six.
Unfortunately, outside of a block on Serge Ibaka later in the game, he had little else to give. Once the levy had broken, he was but one more to succumb to the flood of poor shot selection (leading to 34.2 FG%), sloppy play (16 turnovers) and defensive lapses.
Vince goes from "sparksman'' to "spokesman'' ...
What spark he had provided was swallowed by the waves of Thunder rolling over the AAC ... a waterlogged ember starved of its light.
GROUNDED: Jason Terry stated prior to the game that the Mavs were treating this as Game 7 ... implying they would fight as if their lives were on the line. They would come out swinging.
Terry finished with 11 points, 3-of-10 field goals, six assists, one steal and four turnovers. This certainly doesn't fall on Jet alone, but he shares an equal brunt of the load ... with everyone else.
The same guy who took LeBron James to task in The Finals and not only lived to tell about it but backed up every word had more turnovers (4) than made field goals (3) ... and we're left to hope this isn't Terry's final meaningful performance as a Mav.
BIG WOOD, BIG PINE: 19 minutes in Game 1. 9:54 in Game 2. And, seven minutes in Game 3 for Brendan Haywood. The trend is obvious, and given the fact that he's combined to go 3-of-11 for nine points, and as importantly, nine total rebounds and almost no significant impact on the game from the interior.
Carlisle stated repeatedly he wanted a physical presence from the center position. Once more in this series, Haywood did not provide that, leaving us to wonder if we'll catch more than a brief glimpse of him over the remainder of this series.
Right now? It appears Mavs management has found a loophole in the rules and that Big Wood has already been amnestied.
THE OFFICIATING: Warranted or not, it's hard to deny the Mavericks allowed the officials to frustrate their early play and perhaps help set them adrift on the path that led to a 16-point loss.
Unfortunately, that's not an excuse capable of explaining away or forgiving the play that followed. For a team with the wealth of experience found in the Dallas roster, composure should be an advantage. Instead, frustration was paired with emotion and the collective calm was lost ... rendering their composure a weakness rather than a strength.
The calls gradually evened out, with the Mavs shooting 26 free throws to only 17 for the Thunder ... but the return to form did not follow suit.
Sure, there were some extremely questionable calls, a pair of phantom fouls that sent Marion to the bench in the first, for example ... but they came with an abundance of time to recover. We won't say the Mavs rolled over and gave up, though the score may indicate otherwise, but we will say their confidence, perhaps their pure will to overcome, seemed fractured and wounded.
"There were some distractions there,'' said Carlisle, who at one point earned a T for storming the court in the middle of play. "We're not going to make it about the officials. I thought we came out of that well.''
Nah. Not really. In a game of this magnitude, there's little excuse for "some distractions.'' The punishment was swift and harsh: a 3-0 series deficit.
MAVSELLANEOUS: Dallas closed the first quarter with a 13-4 run, and followed that up by ending the second with an 8-2 mini-burst. It seemed a fix to their end-of-quarter struggles was at hand, only there was the little matter of the rest of the quarters, where the Mavs were outscored 44-20 in the first half. In retrospect, the ailment was not remedied, only the full extent of the wound concealed ... The Thunder went on a 30-12 run over the third and fourth quarters that put the game out of reach ... Well into the third quarter Jason Kidd led the Mavs in shot attempts. Kidd does a lot of things well, but this can't be a desired attack for Dallas to succeed ... "Nobody really had a good game for us," Dirk Nowitzki said after the game. When that happens, this happens ... The Mavs hit 4-of-18 shots in the third quarter after going 4-of-16 in the second, meaning they were 8-of-34 (23.5%) in the middle two quarters and scored only 31 points. ... We still think Delonte West represents a reasonable answer to Westbrook, but the results say otherwise. Westy scored 20, including 11 in the third to end any real hopes of a Dallas comeback. Delonte talks about the challenges ...
THE FINAL WORD: In Oklahoma City both games remained in doubt until the final moments, and one could say that Dallas allowed two golden opportunities to slip between their outstretched fingers. In Game 3, there was no confusion over the outcome. The Thunder pulled away and left Dallas reeling and on the verge of facing a sweet this Saturday.
From four points to 16 ... from the beating pulse of a healthy hope to the realm of the near helpless. The odds that were already stacking in favor of the Thunder still fall short of impossible, but well into the darkness of "never been done before." As in, no team has ever come back to overcome a 3-0 deficit.
Most of the Mavs said all the right things here.
Marion: "We've got to dig deep inside of us and get it."
Vince: "At some point someone is going to defy the odds so why not try for it?''
Jet: Can you fight through adverse situations and come together as a team and get it done? I believe we can. People say I'm crazy....''
There's little justification for crazy hope, but someone has to do it eventually ... right? There is always a first. When there is no wider ledge to grab onto, we're left with that weak, exposed root to grasp ... desperation lends even the meekest of paths viability ... unfortunately, this season has reached its most desperate moment, and its most far-fetched of hopes.
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