Oklahoma City did enough to win, and ultimately, just a little bit more to lose. It’s too easy just to simply point at the 99-84 lead with five minutes to go and the subsequent collapse (28-6… good golly), but the seeds of finality were planted much earlier, in the form of wasting an explosive start by Kevin Durant by starving him of second-quarter touches, and then, by turning the ball over 9 times in the third—both instances where the foot was primed to squeeze the throat only to have it go begging.
Dirk Nowitzki was predictably sensational and unguardable; the League’s best offensive player after his dribble is killed; and a player who wastes little to no energy while Durant, wet behind the ears, learns the nuances of his craft the hard way—by repeatedly returning (and succumbing) to his trusty length with mixed results. Nowitzki got the ball in his spots on the floor, and 40 points resulted; Durant was forced to catch the ball in spots foreign to his strengths, and 9 turnovers tarnished a 29-point, 15-rebound effort. Only time will provide Durant the lesson of creating space to score.
The Thunder’s final five minutes were played not to lose. Dallas played to win. James Harden fouled out with just over four minutes remaining and that seemed to change the dynamic. Predictable possessions followed, ones that developed slowly and were anticipated by Dallas. The Mavs, similarly, were also predictable yet much more poised and calculated: Get the ball to Dirk and please remove yourself from the premises. He delivered as always, his stroke and shot-making dragged them back.
By the time overtime began the Thunder had nothing left to give, momentum long gone, the series slipping, the crowd’s anxiety hardly hidden. Jason Kidd (17 points) settled matters with a long three and by stripping Durant. Losing a game in this fashion is heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and whatever word best articulates having your soul taken from you.
It feels like the series is over, which is a shame. We went from having two more games promised to us to now having the Thunder lining on death row, going back to the road to find life with Dallas ready to finish.