Down 15 points with 5:05 left in Game Four of the Western Conference Championships, the Dallas Mavericks rallied all the way back to tie the Oklahoma City Thunder before pulling away in overtime to win a 112-105 stunner...
No matter what prism you've been watching this series through, there were moments in that stirring comeback that would play to your perceptions.
*If you're in the "Dirk's Destiny" camp, you saw a few seemingly impossible shots go down in the Mavericks late surge. Jeff Van Gundy called the performance "legendary."
*If you've been blaming a lot of things on Russell Westbrook (like me!), it's as if he wanted to make sure EVERYONE IN THE WORLD saw that he's likely to make very poor decisions at horrible times...and that he's not a consistent shooter once you get away from the basket.
*If you think Westbrook is getting blamed too much, there were several poor decisions by his teammates and his coach down the stretch that played a big role in the blown lead.
With those themes fresh in our minds, let's review the rally...
(First, as a precursor, be aware that Oklahoma City's scoring in the fourth quarter to build what had been an 81-77 three-quarter lead up to 99-84 was done...in order...by Ibaka, Durant, Collison, Harden, Durant, Ibaka, Durant, Collison, and Durant. Westbrook only took one shot, a missed three-pointer. His Usage Rate ended at 33.9, meaning it was probably near or below the magic number of 32.0 before this stretch...OKC is 5-0 in the playoffs when Westbrook's Usage Rate is below 32.0. To reflect back to the prisms, I'll put Dirk's makes and Westbrook's misses in italics. The full fourth quarter play-by-play breakdown from ESPN's website is here)
5:00 to go: Oklahoma City leads 99-84
4:48: Shawn Marion is fouled by James Harden and makes 2 FT's.
4:33: Dirk Nowitzki is fouled by James Harden after a Dallas defensive rebound. This is notable because it was the SIXTH FOUL ON HARDEN, and because Dallas was in the bonus. DUMB! John Hollinger of ESPN was on top of things with poor OKC foul choices in his fourth quarter tweets (which made up for him tweeting "I think we're done here" just before the rally started...jinx city!). Dirk only made one free throw, so it's 99-87.
4:20: Russell Westbrook misses a 17-foot jumper just 13 seconds into the shot clock. The whole arena still thinks this is going to be an OKC win (and I was preparing an entirely different lead!)
3:48: Russell Westbrook tries to drive through the Dallas trees, and loses the ball to Jason Kidd. He pulls Kidd down afterward...resulting in two free throws that Jason makes. It's 99-89 OKC...and I'm thinking, "wouldn't it be something if OKC blows this game and I can point to those last two plays from Westbrook as the turning point?" Of course, Harden fouling out is the better turning point. In fact, Westbrook getting into trouble on offense is one of the dominos that started to fall because a key weapon was off the floor.
3:32: Kevin Durant misses a 22-footer 16 seconds into the shot clock. Durant seems to shy away from driving to the basket late in tight situations.
3:15: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 13-foot jumper...with the play-by-play listings not able to do justice to the acrobatics involved in Dirk's late scores. Dallas has cut it to 99-91 with 3:15 to go. And, it still seems unlikely that a full comeback is in the cards. Scott Brooks calls a timeout to remind his players that they haven't won yet.
2:49: Kevin Durant misses a 3-pointer late in the shot clock. Nick Collison gets the rebound. Russell Westbrook makes a free throw line jumper with 2:32 to go, and poses for the cameras like he's in a music video...rather than humbly remembering that he's hitting about 30% of his shots outside of 2 feet over the past few weeks.
2:21: Dirk Nowitzki hits a trey to make it 101-94
2:11: Jason Terry fouls Westbrook when Westbrook was a bit out of control bringing the ball up. But, Westbrook is great at drawing contact, so he may have been more in control than I was giving him credit for. Westbrook misses BOTH free throws, which was a shocker given how well he'd been hitting them in the playoffs.
2:00: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 14-foot jumper to make it 101-96, and it starts to dawn on Thunder nation that they're on the verge of a major choke job.
1:30: Russell Westbrook misses a 15-foot jumper. Obviously it was late in the shot clock. Harden isn't on the floor. Given what they've seen in the series, Dallas wants Westbrook taking that shot.
1:25: Dirk Nowitzki makes a 5-footer and it's 101-98 with 1:25 to go.
1:07: Kevin Durant gets picked by Shawn Marion...Jason Terry's subsequent layup attempt gets blocked by Thabo Sefolosha...Russell Westbrook misses a 16-foot jump shot...then fouls Shawn Marion right afterward in the backcourt. Marion makes one of two...meaning OKC gave Dallas four points on fouls a mile away from the basket during this stretch. It's 101-99 Oklahoma City with 39 seconds left. All of those "Dirk makes" and "Westbrook misses" notations and the Thunder are still ahead...WITH THE BALL...with 39 seconds left.
0:20: Thabo Sefolosha misses a three-pointer, and Dallas gets the rebound.
0:06: Dirk is grabbed from behind by Nick Collison and gets two free throws. I could see why some OKC fans would be mad about this call. Collison definitely had his hands on Dirk and impeded his movement. We've all seen it NOT called late in close games. We've also seen it called often when the scoring star of the team with the ball is the guy getting grabbed. Dirk makes his free throws, and we're tied.
Kevin Durant has a very long trey attempt blocked by Shawn Marion, and we're going overtime.
Overtime saw Jason Kidd and Jason Terry help Dirk with the scoring (a trey from Kidd broke a 105-all tie with 40 seconds left). OKC got buckets from Sefolosha and Ibaka, but misses from Durant and Westbrook. Four late Mavs free throws extended the margin to 112-105
DALLAS 112, OKLAHOMA CITY 105 (in overtime)
2-point pct: Dallas 48%, OKC 52%
3-pointers: Dallas 8/25, OKC 2/13
Free Throws: Dallas 34/39,OKC 19/25
Rebounds: Dallas 33, OKC 55
Turnovers: Dallas 13, OKC 25
Some truly weird extremes. Oklahoma City won rebounding by a monster margin. That was trigered by 20 offensive rebounds though....which is a sign they were settling for too many jumpers and not driving to the basket enough. You can see that they lost free throws by a bunch...AT HOME...which is very odd for the Thunder. Hustle made up for that until that last disastrous stretch. (The expanded boxscore can be read here).
Individually, Durant was trying to do too much...with 9 of 22 from the floor but a whopping 9 turnovers. Westbrook was 7 of 22 with 6 turnovers. The rest of the team shot 26 of 46 for 57%. Everyone else only shoots when they get really good looks, so that's a bit misleading. But, look how easy it is to get the guys who supposedly can't score some open looks!
Ibaka: 8 of 15, 18 points
Sefolosha: 6 of 10, 12 points
Collison: 5 of 7, 12 points
I'd feel like it's piling on to go through all of Westbrook's poor shooting spots again. I just wish this was part of the mainstream coverage. If an NFL quarterback kept having a horrible completion percentage in a series of big games, it would be mentioned. Heaven forbid AROD goes hitless in a couple of playoff games. Westbrook was 0 for 10 outside of 9 feet tonight. In what's supposed to be a jumpshooter's range of 16-23 feet, he's 15 of his last 56 going back a dozen playoff games. FIFTEEN OF FIFTY-SIX! He's 8 of his last 35 on treys, and OKC needs to keep up with Dallas from behind the arc.
Assigning proper blame amongst the contributing factors (schematics, teammates, coaching, his own mindset, intelligently designed Dallas defense) is admittedly tricky. But, the end result is so important that it shouldn't be ignored. It's happening. It matters. And, it was part of the collapse in the final minutes this evening. Dirk's heroics would have fallen short without all the zero possessions from OKC (he would end with 40 points on 12 of 20 from the floor...which was obviously a lot worse than 12 of 20 before the "instant classic" finish).
Dallas will bring a 3-1 series edge home for Game Five on Wednesday. Back with you late Tuesday for numbers and notes from Game Four of Chicago-Miami...