And so it came to pass in Such A Leak Arena on a dark and stormy night that the defending champions came to defend their championship. No matter what the Thunder did, the Mavericks had a response for it. Still, OKC persevered, going on a 7-0 run (in 64 seconds!) to tie it at 94-all with 1:27 left. Then Dallas displayed a rare phenomenon known as “fifth-chance points,” in which OKC made four attempts to retrieve the ball, but it ended with Ian Mahinmi sinking two free throws. Kevin Durant, who’d been having a rough (for Kevin Durant) night shooting, then set up Serge Ibaka for a dunk and an and-one. With 24 seconds left, it was 97-96 OKC. James Harden fouled Dirk Nowitzki, who of course didn’t find it convenient to miss either of his free throws. And a second and a half before the buzzer, Durant front-rimmed a jumper, which bounded off the backboard — and in. Oklahoma City 99, Dallas 98, and the playoffs begin on a positive note.
Still, it’s not like KD was playing slacker. He put in nearly 44 minutes on a night when no one else had 40. And he reeled in six boards, served up four dimes, and blocked four shots. It’s enough to make you forget 10-27 from the floor (1-6 for three) and 25 points. Besides, Russell Westbrook found his A game, good for 28 points (13-23), and those Ibaka freebies gave him 22 for the night. The bench didn’t score much. In fact, the bench didn’t score at all, except for Harden, who had a highly-efficient 19 on 4-7 and nine free throws. No one seemed to mind.
If Jason Terry is a feared sixth man, and he is, then Vince Carter should get props as a seventh: he tossed in 13 points to go with Terry’s 20. Dirk, being Dirk, had 25, almost half in the fourth quarter. Shawn Marion tacked on 17 more. The Mavs had a 42-36 advantage off the boards, but they turned the ball over even more than the Thunder — 15-14 — and while they nailed ten of 22 treys for 45 percent, they were no better than that on short-range shots. Still, I can’t help thinking that Dallas could have pulled this one off, were it not for the fact that Rick Carlisle’s momentum-control scheme had left them with no timeouts after Durant’s winning jumper.
So not a lot to gripe about, unless you’re a Thunder fan who also happens to be a cardiac patient. And if Game 2 (Monday night) is like this, more of them might be.