During the two middle quarters, the Mavericks outscored the Thunder 61-56, which demonstrated that they’re not entirely out of this series; what’s more, the Mavs, who had not shot well early on, brought their shooting percentage over 50 percent in the fourth. But the dreaded Injury Bug paid Dallas a couple of visits: Deron Williams, who did not look at all well, was pulled within a minute and a half, and Salah Mejri, who’d been effectively bothering the Thunder, bruised his hip in the second half and did not return. With J. J. Barea reduced to a nonfactor — Andre Roberson pestered Barea all night, leaving him 0-7 from the floor — it was left to Raymond Felton and Dirk Nowitzki to carry the Mavericks’ banner, and that’s a big flag for just two guys, even two guys with that much court cred. With two and a half minutes left, radio guy Matt Pinto pronounced the Mavs, then down 13, “exhausted,” and maybe they were. But at the 50-second mark, Kevin Durant disappeared in a wholly unexpected manner: a Flagrant Two at the expense of Justin Anderson. With KD thumbed, the Mavs had an opening, and by 0:38 they’d shaved that OKC lead to a mere eight. They would not get further. Oklahoma City 119, Dallas 108, the Thunder are up 3-1, and the series goes back to OKC on Monday.
And really, KD wasn’t missed that much; he was having a fairly mediocre (for Durant) night, with 19 points on 7-20 shooting. And he only hit four free throws, out of eight. But being the third leading scorer for the night didn’t hurt, with another Russell Westbrook double-double (25 points/15 dimes) and a spectacular showing, especially in the fourth quarter, from Enes Kanter, who finished with 28 on 12-13, including four free throws. Out of four. Yeah, Dirk had 27 for the night, but it took him 40 minutes; Kanter, the most expensive sixth man in the NBA and darn well worth it, did it in 26.
Still, the Mavs do not roll over and play dead. If Dirk’s okay Monday, and there’s no reason at the moment to think he won’t be, he’ll be a factor. And Raymond Felton, who’d never seemed like quite the A-list guard anywhere else he’s played, has absolutely blossomed in this series; tonight he had 19 points and 11 assists. The reliable Wesley Matthews continues to be, well, reliable. And the Thunder still have ways of giving it away: they missed ten free throws tonight. Still, it’s do or die for Dallas at the Thunderdome on Monday. Whatever tricks Rick Carlisle may have up his well-tailored sleeve, he’d better have them ready.