OKLAHOMA CITY —
Champions don’t go down easy.
Oklahoma City learned this lesson Saturday in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Facing defending champion Dallas, the Thunder found themselves on the ropes late to a team everyone thought was dead.
However, the Thunder still had Kevin Durant. And as he did against the Mavericks earlier in the regular season, the MVP candidate found a way to will his team to 99-98 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“It was a good win for us,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We stuck together. That is what this team always does. It didn’t surprise me that we got down a few times. Even with three minutes to go, we got down seven and continued to fight back.”
With Dallas trailing by a point, Dirk Nowitzki was fouled by James Harden with nine seconds left in the game. He drilled both free throws to give his team a 98-97 lead.
Oklahoma City called a timeout, and everyone knew who was getting the ball. Durant had hit a game-winning 3-pointer in December to beat Dallas. He took a different route this time.
With Shawn Marion guarding him, Durant drove to the middle of the lane and put up a soft jumper. It bounced around the rim before falling in. The crowd erupted as the Thunder grabbed a 1-0 series lead.
“I didn’t want to settle for a three,” Durant said. “So I just tried to take it closer and shoot a shot. Got enough arc on it and it was able to fall in.”
Durant had a sub-par shooting night going 10 for 27, but finished with 25 points, six rebounds and four blocks. Russell Westbrook added 28 points and Serge Ibaka came up with 22 points and five blocks.
Nowitzki led the Mavs with 25. Jason Terry was hot early and scored 20.