Aaron Colen, Sports Editor, Aaron.Colen@chickashanews.com
OKLAHOMA CITY —
The Oklahoma City Thunder took a 2-0 lead in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, beating the Dallas Mavericks in another close game, which came down to the last possession.
The Thunder earned a 102-99 victory, withstanding a couple of late three-point attempts by Jason Terry that could have tied the game. James Harden made four free throws in the last 25 seconds to keep the lead.
Harden finished the game with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Russell Westbrook again led the Thunder in scoring, putting in 29 points on 10-for-21 shooting. Kevin Durant struggled from the field, shooting 5-for-17 but getting to the free throw line 16 times, converting 14 of them.
“As far as my shooting, I’ve missed some shots that, of course, I would love to make,” Durant said. “But I’ve got faith in myself, and faith in my hard work, and I’m always going to stay positive.”
Westbrook made a point to mention that Durant found other ways to contribute, despite not shooting a high percentage.
“He’s going to stay aggressive, and continue to keep us in games,” Westbrook said. “He does other things. He had ten rebounds tonight. Nobody’s mentioned that...everything is going to be alright.”
Kendrick Perkins scored seven points in the first quarter and finished with 13 points in the game. Perkins sparked the Oklahoma City offensive attack in the beginning of the game.
“He was on pace for 48,” Brooks joked after the game. “He was going to break Dirk’s playoff record against us. Perk gives us everything he has. I never look at the stat sheet; I look at what he brings. He brings toughness, a physical presence and a defensive mentality.”
Derek Fisher played one of his best games as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting in 24 minutes of play.
“D-Fish did a great job of giving us a spark off the bench, knocking down big shots and playing defense,” Durant said. “He just plays hard, and that’s what we expect from him every single night.”
Dirk Nowitzki had a big game offensively in a losing effort, scoring a game-high 31 points on 10-for-19 shooting and going 11-for-11 from the free throw line.
It was a physical game, and the tone was set early when Nowitzki got into small altercations with Serge Ibaka and Perkins in the first quarter.
Both Perkins and Nowitzki were assigned technical fouls, and it was clear at that point what kind of game would be played.
Head coach Scott Brooks said he saw the incident live, but chalked it up to typical playoff basketball.
“It was a physical, intense, hard-fought playoff basketball game,” Brooks said. “I was proud of our guys, and how they battled from the start of the game and then finished it off.”
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was less positive about the physicality of the game.
“We don’t like the cheap shots when they give them, and they don’t like it if we give them,” Carlisle said. “I love hard play and clean competitive playoff series. You throw the ball up, and may the best team win. But, the dirty bull**** has got to stop. We don’t want anyone getting hurt out there, either way.”
Carlisle wouldn’t elaborate any further on what plays he was talking about, when asked.
The Thunder got ahead by as many as 16 points in the first half, but the Mavericks were able to pull within seven points by halftime. Even though they were able to pull out of the deficit, Carlisle said the team has to avoid getting in that position.
“We can’t dig ourselves a 16-point hole in the first half,” Carlisle said. “That’s something that’s tough. I love the way we fought back. But they held serve, so we have to go back home and hold serve.”
The Mavs continued to close the gap in a third quarter that saw the flow of the game slow down, with many fouls and free throws.
The game remained close throughout the rest of the game, with the lead changing hands multiple times. However, Oklahoma City made it’s free throws down the stretch, and, as Carlisle put it, made one more play than Dallas did to win the game.
Game three in Dallas will take place Thursday, with tip-off scheduled for 8:30 p.m.