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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – First the Thunder. Then lightning, followed by hail.
Next up for the Dallas Mavericks: Extinction?
In the wake of another kick-to-the-crotch loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in which the supposedly savvy veterans lost a last-minute lead, the Mavericks’ flight home was delayed more than hour by bad weather Monday night. But even sitting in a hangar to protect them from the elements, the Mavs were certainly not comforted by the fact that, ultimately, they’re not going to be able to weather this storm.
When the Mavs finally arrived in Dallas around 3 a.m. they unpacked the grim reality: They are not quicker, stronger, faster or younger than the Thunder. And, with a playoff series that has continued a season-long troubling trend, they simply are not better either.
The Mavericks have played four games in Oklahoma City this season. In each game they have held a lead in the final minute. They are 0-4, including consecutive losses in this first-round series in which they’ve been outscored in the final 60 seconds by totals of 5-2 in Game 1 and 6-2 in Monday night’s Game 2.
Each time the details are different. But the script remains similar.
“We just haven’t made enough plays,” said a flabbergasted Mavs’ coach Rick Carlisle after his team lost 102-99 to fall into the almost insurmountable 0-2 hole to the second-seeded Thunder. “It’s tough. No question about it. We’ve had opportunities. But we haven’t cashed them in. They’ve made one more play than we have, in both games. As my good friend Ron Washington would say, ‘That’s how baseball go’.”
While the Texas Rangers and Yu Darvish are just embarking on what appears to be a record-setting, championship-winning season, the defending champion Mavericks are nearing their final, fatal gasps for life.
Two losses by a combined four points don’t seem disheartening, but it’s the style as much as the substance. Dallas’ edge was supposed to be guile and guts and executing down the stretch of close games in pressured environments. But Oklahoma City has been better. At the end of quarters. And, yes, at the end of games.
In Game 1 Kevin Durant made an improbable H-O-R-S-E shot, kissing the game-winner off the front rim, over the square on the backboard and in. In Game 2 Dirk Nowitzki attempted to give Dallas a lead with 25 seconds remaining, but his trademark Flamingo Fadeaway hit the rim, the backboard, the rim and, swear, the rim again before falling off.
So close. But yet so far.
“We’re going to keep coming at ‘em,” said Nowitzki, who also missed a wide-open 3-pointer that would’ve given his team a four-point lead with 1:13 remaining. “We’re not going to back down. We’re not going to give it to them, we’re gonna make them take it from us. We’ve got some warriors in here and the fight isn’t over. We’re a couple of bounces from being up 2-0.”
Added Mavs’ forward Shawn Marion, “It should be 2-0, us. It’s frustration, yeah, but more so I’m just pissed off.”
The series, of course, isn’t over. I fully expect the Mavs to play with desperation – which will manifest itself in energy and execution – and win Thursday night’s Game 3. They’ve done so much right in the series it won’t take much for them to make it competitive.
Kevin Durant has made only 15 of 44 shots. When the Thunder have shoved, the Mavs have pushed back. And with a mix of zone defense and holding their own on the boards, Dallas has, other than a Game 2 spurt, controlled the pace to an acceptable, non-windshield wiper pace.
“We are disappointed,” said Carlisle. “But we are not dismayed.”
The glaring problem: The Mavs have been outplayed in crunch time. In the final two minutes of the series’ eight quarters OKC has outscored Dallas, 55-29. And in the final minute, the Thunder have an 11-4 edge.
While the Thunder got winning, surprising production from Serge Ibaka and Derek Fisher, the Mavs have melted down. In Game 1 it was consecutive Nowitzki turnovers that helped choke away a late seven-point lead. And Tuesday night it was the three elders again: Jason Kidd with a wild pass out of bounds, Jason Terry bailing out OKC with a foul at the end of the shot clock and Nowitzki missing the potential dagger 3-poiner and the baseline fadeaway we’ve seen him hit not 100, but 1,000 times.
“That fadeaway bounced all over the rim … hit every part of it,” he said. “But that’s the way our season has been going. It’s frustrating.”
After the game Carlisle displayed his emotion, telling the media and a live audience on NBATV that “the dirty bullshit’s gotta stop,” in reference to Ibaka slapping Nowitzki in the face after a made shot and Kendrick Perkins trying to antagonize and intimidate Dirk later in the Game 2’s feisty first half.
Since acumen isn’t trumping athleticism, Dallas needs to combine its heart of a champion with the wisdom of a winner. Better performance, yes. But also better decisions.
The Mavs have been in playoff holes before. Last year they blew a 23-point lead in a loss to Portland. They gave up home-court to the Thunder with a Game 2 loss in the Western Conference Finals. They twice trailed the Miami Heat in The Finals. In Game 2 they survived a 46-30 deficit, but again lost in the final seconds.
Dallas can look at it two ways: 1. They’re either thiiiis close; 2. Or they’re simply not good enough.
The hail and lightning didn’t kill the Mavs.
But the Thunder may be too much.
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*Follow Richie Whitt on Twitter @RichieWhitt
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