The Thunder accomplished the task, sweeping the defending champions. That’s the hard news. But holy beard, what an incredible win.
If you wanted something to make you feel like this team is actually championship worthy, save that fourth quarter on your DVR and set it to erase never. I’ve never watched this team and felt that kind of pride. They’ve played some wonderful games, had some impressive wins, piled up a lot of outstanding efforts, but the mental toughness it took to overcome a 13-point fourth quarter deficit in a closeout game on the road — wow.
It started and finished with James Harden, who showed the world what all of us in Oklahoma City have seen all season. On any given night, he can be the best player on the floor. And that’s one that he shares with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He scored 15 of his playoff career-high 29 in the fourth quarter, doing it in typical Harden style. He got into the pick-and-roll, isolated, attacked and finished. It was similar to what we saw Harden do in that Houston game, except this time, Scott Brooks wasn’t afraid to just let Harden seal the deal.
Trust is an awesome thing, especially when your players build up enough equity in it where you can just let the game go to them. Brooks’ best coaching move of the night was simply getting out of the way. Harden, Westbrook and Durant knew what they were doing. They knew what was working. The Thunder were trying to find a spark and when it finally hit, they jumped on board the beard and just rode it home.
Crunch time offense has often been a battle for OKC, but when things get dynamic with Harden on the ball, you see what happens. Sometimes it works working KD off the ball. Sometimes Westbrook can take it over. The willingness to open it up to all three guys is what can make the Thunder so dangerous. In Game 5 last season against the Mavs, Harden took things over for a stretch as well. But the Thunder bogged down to the same old offense the final three minutes and couldn’t close. When the Thunder had possession up three with 25 seconds left, I was positive OKC was going to run a Durant isolation set. I didn’t think Scott Brooks would stick with the beard. But he did, and it obviously paid off.
But again, the toughness. So many little plays contributed to the comeback. Daequan Cook’s 3 to start the third. Derek Fisher’s big time shots. Serge Ibaka’s defense on Dirk. Westbrook came up with a couple massive steals. Rebounding was terrific. Down the line you go, the Thunder just played BIG. To show up and pull that off when it all appeared to be going against them is something you can put in your back pocket and take with you.
It’s one series down. Two more to go in the West. It was a sweep, but it wasn’t easy. A few plays and this thing could’ve been going six, or seven. When you have an opportunity to close, you have to do it. It’s incredibly unlikely to blow a 3-0 lead (teams down 3-0 are now 0-100 in coming back), but the first one in history starts with one game. Instead of open a door, the Thunder slammed it shut.
Oklahoma City clearly has grown up in a big time way, and showed that next evolution off in impressive fashion. Rick Carlisle said it well after the game. “They have a certain look in their eye right now. Not just that they belong, but that this could be their time.” That fourth quarter definitely showcased it. The Thunder have a killer instinct, a mental toughness that is something you have to have to compete in the NBA playoffs.
- The Thunder won this game without Kendrick Perkins who left the game in the first quarter with a right hip strain. Obviously it was damaging to OKC as Nazr Mohammed had to play minutes, KD had to defend Dirk and the Thunder were depleted as both Ibaka and Nick Collison piled up fouls. He’s day-to-day, so we’ll see what happens.
- Pretty big that the Thunder got this done now, because it means they’ll have at least a week worth of rest. Which is obviously big in letting Perk get healthy.
- Harden was obviously incredible scoring the ball, as he keyed a 10-run with seven straight points to get OKC back in it, but KD’s 3 was really the punctuation that the Thunder were in this game. He was 0-of-5 from deep before that shot, and stroked it like nothing else. Big, big shot.
- Harden’s two-handed hammer was basically his way to say, “THIS IS MY GAME MOVE OUT OF THE WAY.” I’ve never seen Harden break out that kind of aggression at the rim. You could tell he was feeling it.
- Derek Fisher. We were told wait for the playoffs and while I’ll admit I thought that kind of noise was silly, it’s proved to be true. He’s hit some huge shots, made big plays and become a weapon for the Thunder. He went 5-of-6 in Game 2, 4-of-9 in Game 3 and 5-of-6 in Game 4. The 3 he hit late in the third was almost a way to say, “OK guys, calm down, let’s keep playing.”
- Fisher’s last three games: 14-21, 5-8 from 3, 33 points.
- I thought Ibaka’s defense on Dirk was the best defense Serge has played all year. Dirk got his points, but that was because he was hitting those crazy Dirk shots. Ibaka was fantastic at contesting, keeping him out of the paint and making him work.
- You could just see how desperate the Mavs were. They weren’t going to go down lightly. They laid it all out, played hard and fought for it. The fact the Thunder won despite it, was awesome.
- The Mavs pulled away with 34 points in the third, and did it largely by making everything. They went 5-6 from 3. Once that well dried up, the Thunder were able to get enough stops to get back in it.
- The Mavs did a great job eliminating Westbrook’s mid-range game. He scored only 12 points on 3-12, but had to do it by attacking only. He only took one mid-range jumper, and it was in the second possession of the game.
- KD and Russ pulled a Dirk with the microphones after the game.
- The Mavs had taken 10 more shots than the Thunder at halftime, but OKC took six more than the Mavs in the second half. Why? Because the Thunder only turned it over four times in the second half.
- Westbrook was asked by a reporter if Harden is a max player. He answered it smartly saying how good Harden is, then smoothly said, “No more questions for you, bro.”
- Brendan Haywood was the worst player in the playoffs, right? We all agree?
- Ibaka set quite the tone early by stuffing Dirk at the rim on the very first play.
- Daequan Cook took an awful shot to end the first quarter. I think he was trying to get a 2-for-1, but launched a transition 3 with 26 seconds left in the quarter and a two second differential. If it goes in, great, but the Thunder weren’t going to get another look, so is basically amounted to a turnover.
Next up: Who knows?