If there was no such a thing as instant replay, and if there was no such thing as public humiliation, and if there was no such thing as accountability, then the Dallas Mavericks would trail the OKC Thunder 0-2. But there was instant reply. It showed the Steven Adams tip in was a little too late. There was public humiliation and it translated into the Mavs gut check, physicality and aggression. They came out like they had to prove something to the world. And there was accountability, the tough, gritty kind of taking it on yourself, of looking in the mirror. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you lose by one or if you lose by 40. Losing, as has been noted by athletes since the beginning of time, isn’t as worse as quitting, which the Mavs never did in game two.
Raymond Felton had his most important game in what seemed like a decade, 21 points, 11 rebounds. Felton, having to do the point guard thing solo for much of the second half since Deron Williams had a strained sports hernia, made all the big time plays and yet he missed two free throws that allowed the Thunder to have a last shot at a win. When the tip-in came up short, all the Mavs from Mark Cuban on down exhaled.
The Mavs played harder than the Thunder and were the tougher team. As Ray Felton put it, “we had to get in the fight.” Saturday’s slaughter was, “a disgrace to the city of Dallas and to our fans”, said Felton. That may have been true but when Durant passed the ball to Westbrook and Westbrook passed it back to Durant who missed a layup like he missed almost every shot he took in this game, it was a tense moment. The Thunder celebrated the Adams tip-in and then had their hearts broken when ref Danny Crawford ruled it no good.
The Mavs were less relieved than they were satisfied. No one gave them this game, they went out and took it. They were tougher, stronger and more determined. It helped that the OKC offense down the stretch was pitiful. Durant and Westbrook had a terrible shooting game. Some of it was Dallas and some of it was scorers sometimes have bad nights and they miss shots.
Rick Carlisle credited Deron Williams for getting the Mavs off to a good start. Williams may not be the player he once was and he may be injured now, but he is a veteran that knows how to play after a loss. He, as well as his fellow Mavs, do have pride.
“He was hot early. He kept the confidence level up. Our resolve was there.” (Rick Carlisle)
Williams had to call it quits in the third but Carlisle pointed out how the Mavs “willed the game.” He acknowledged that sometimes playoff games are downright ugly (and nasty). Carlisle said, “we had to look in the mirror.”
Credit the Mavs bounce back with that very thing they are criticized for, their age. This is a team of veterans that are aware of what the situation is when you get punked by 30+ points. You have to compete. Players with double-digit years in the league appreciate the playoffs more because they know nothing is promised. Dallas with its collection of cast-offs channeled that inner willfulness.
They led in the first quarter by four because they shot 55.6%. They lead at half by two, thanks to a Nowitzki jumper. They trailed going into the fourth by three and outscored the Thunder in the last six minutes of the game, 12-6. Ray Felton, the hero.
Kevin Durant was a volume shooter, 33 shots. He missed 26 of them for a 21% shooting night but he made a three to cut the Mavs lead to one. That led to the Felton missed free throws and a possible game winning shot.
I’m still sick. Even though we got the win. I’m still sick. I don’t miss free throws like that, when they come down the clutch. When we get in the gym, I’ll take 500 free throws if I need to before the next game.”
“It’s a group with a lot of resilience”, Rick Carlisle said afterwards, stating the obvious.
Another Thunder blown 4th quarter lead set the Dallas comeback in motion. It’s not a secret the Thunder are vulnerable in the 4th. They get tight. They don’t move the ball. They miss shots. In this game, the refs were letting a lot of contact go which played into what the Mavs wanted to do. Because the superstars weren’t getting the benefit of the doubt, the Mavs could just be gritty and not worry about the refs getting in the middle of it. Besides, no points for pretty in the playoffs.
“Give Dallas credit. They bounced back after game one. So give them credit.” (Billy Donovan)
Game 3 Thursday night. Dallas, Texas.