Durant’s shot gives Thunder a thrilling victory
OKLAHOMA CITY — Well, this certainly didn’t feel like Game 1.
The opening game of the rematch between the two Western Conference finalists from a year ago took on the look and feel of a hotly contested Game 6.
Instead, it was perhaps a sign of what could be in store as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks battle it out once again for conference supremacy.
The Thunder outlasted the Mavs 99-98 in a thriller on Saturday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and narrowly maintaining home-court advantage.
It took a last-second shot by Kevin Durant to seal the deal — a 15-foot, off-balance jumper over the outstretched arms of Dallas forward Shawn Marion with 1.5 seconds remaining.
“I just didn’t want to settle for a 3, so I tried to take it closer and shoot a shot,” Durant said. “I got enough arc on it to go in.”
Oddly enough, Durant, the reigning three-time scoring champ, struggled mightily throughout.
Through three quarters, Durant sat on 17 points on just 7-of-19 shooting. After missing his first four shots, Durant made his next three but never found his rhythm and wasn’t any better in the final period. Durant finished with 25 points on 10-of-27 shooting in 44 minutes. He missed five of six 3-pointers and dished just four assists while turning the ball over twice. Making matters worse, Durant worked his way to the free throw line just five times, making four.
“I felt confident in myself because I was getting good looks,” Durant said. “Some of them just rimmed in and out.”
With Durant suffering through an off night, Russell Westbrook attempted to pick up the slack. The Thunder’s two-time All-Star scored 28 points on 13-of-23 shooting with five assists and four rebounds in 38 minutes. Westbrook scored eight points with three assists in the third quarter to keep the Thunder within striking distance.
The Mavs still threatened to run away with it because Dirk Nowitzki was simply too good down the stretch.
In the last five minutes, Nowitzki scored nine straight points, capped by a tough fadeaway jumper to give the Mavs a 94-87 lead with 2:31 remaining.
That’s when Durant came alive.
First, Durant made two free throws, and then he mixed in pinpoint passing with his scoring. He drove and dished to Serge Ibaka for a layup and foul for a three-point play. He finished a fast break with a dunk off a pass from James Harden. And he drove and dumped off another pass to Ibaka for a second three-point play to give the Thunder a 97-96 lead with 53.9 seconds left to play.
Nowitzki made two free throws at the other end after being fouled on a drive to the basket. He put Dallas ahead 98-97 with nine seconds left.
That’s when Durant, who was 9-of-26 before his final bucket, delivered once again.
“I like the fact the he drove to the basket and got to an area he can make that shot,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It was a great shot. It was contested, but great players make tough shots. That’s what he has to do.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle shouldered some of the blame for Durant’s game-winner.
“The only other thing we could have done was double-team him and get the ball out of his hands, and we should have done that, obviously,” Carlisle said. “So that’s on me. I take responsibility for that.”
Oklahoma City has been preordained as the newest heavyweight in the Western Conference, penciled in by many to waltz all the way to the NBA Finals. But the defending champion Mavericks wasted no time showing the up-and-coming Thunder that they’re a long way from realizing their championship dreams and that the road still goes through Dallas.
The Mavs led 51-48 at halftime, getting 14 points from Jason Terry, 10 from Dirk Nowitzki and seven apiece from Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Terry was his typical self as a sparkplug off the bench, making his first six shots before missing his final attempt of the half.
Dallas also benefited from outrebounding Oklahoma City 21-15, grabbing five offensive rebounds to outscore the Thunder 7-2 in second-chance points.
Serge Ibaka made a 3-pointer from the top of the arc just before the halftime buzzer to bring the Thunder within three.
Game 2 is on Monday night, and the question is how the Mavs will respond after wasting an opportunity to steal Game 1 and snatch home-court advantage.
“If any team can recover from it, it’s an experienced one and we have a lot of older guys who have been through a lot,” Carlisle said. “It’s a big game for us on Monday, and hopefully we play a more all-around game.”
NOTES: Mavs guard Delonte West was a game-time decision with an illness but started at shooting guard. … Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said before the game that seeing Chicago guard and reigning MVP Derrick Rose tear his ACL was “heart-breaking” and “gut-wrenching.” Rose will miss the remainder of the playoffs. … There were 16 lead changes and 10 ties in Saturday’s game. … Nowitzki committed three of his six turnovers in the fourth quarter.