Kevin Durant scored 24 points and James Harden added 23, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 106-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, knotting the Western Conference finals at one game each.
Durant was as tough to guard as ever, but the real difference was Harden and the bench coming up big, especially down the stretch.
The bearded, left-handed guard had a four-point play in the final seconds of the third quarter that put Oklahoma City up by one. Then he and fellow reserves Eric Maynor, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook teamed with Durant to outplay Dallas' crew of closers in the final period.
The Thunder's unusual set of finishers outscored the Mavs' by five. They broke the game open with a 14-5 stretch capped by a tough jumper by Harden near the foul line; it put Oklahoma City up by 10 with 3:15 left. Dallas got as close as four points the rest of the way.
"They've been playing hard all year for us and this was another example," Durant said of his team's reserves.
Oklahoma City continued its streak of avoiding consecutive losses this post-season. The series shifts to the Thunder's home court — about 200 miles up Interstate 35 — for Game 3 on Saturday night.
Dirk Nowitzki didn't dominate nearly as much as he did in the opener, scoring 29 points. He had 16 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as Dallas saw its seven-game winning streak end and dropped to 6-1 at home in the playoffs.
"We made it a little tougher for him," Durant said, referring to Nowitzki's 48 points in Game 1.
Nowitzki made 10-of-17 shots in Game 2, but had to earn every one, with bodies flying at him before and during every possession. He was swarmed so tightly that he didn't even score in the third quarter, taking just two shots in nearly nine minutes. The Thunder also got physical without drawing many fouls. The big German took only 10 free throws, down from 24 in the opener. He even missed one, and it was a biggie — part of a series of three shots with 36.7 seconds left. It could have pulled the Mavericks within three.
Tyson Chandler had 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Jason Kidd added 14 points and seven assists for Dallas. However, the Mavericks' bench wasn't up to its usual scoring punch. J.J. Barea scored 11 points, and Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic both had eight.
Maynor scored 13 points, Cook had eight and Collison six. Russell Westbrook bounced back from a tough opener to score 18 points, but he watched the fourth quarter from the bench.
"I was surprised but Eric was playing a great floor game and was getting everyone involved," Durant said of Westbrook not playing down the stretch.
Oklahoma City's reserves were so good that Durant scored only four points in the final quarter. Although he didn't score 40 like the opener, he was still spectacular, with a second-quarter dunk that's worth going to YouTube to see again and again, and a behind-the-back dribble to clear space for another key basket in the third quarter.
The Thunder shot 56 per cent from the field, and again showed how much their youth and athleticism can hurt the older, slower Mavericks. Dallas came into this series not having allowed more than 97 points in any playoff game, and Oklahoma City has shattered that in both games.
The first three quarters were widly entertaining, with each team going through spurts that seemed like they would be capable of breaking things open. The Thunder came out of it leading 77-76 at the start of the final period.
Dallas got the fun started just a few minutes into the game, with a sweet drive and dish by Kidd to Nowitzki resulting in his first basket. The Mavs went on a 12-2 roll that included a full-court inbounds pass to an uncovered Shawn Marion for a dunk that drew a deafening cheer — and a timeout by the Thunder.
Durant's awesome dunk highlighted Oklahoma City's first rally. He soared high enough to touch the square on the backboard and roared so much afterward that he was hit with a technical foul, although he told official Tom Washington, "All I said is, 'And one."'
Oklahoma City went back ahead 40-35 by scoring on 10 straight possessions. Durant was the No. 1 cheerleader on the bench during that run. With a towel over his head, he was up on his seat after almost every basket.
The Thunder led 59-57 at halftime and stretched the lead to eight points, their biggest yet, when Durant dribbled behind his back to clear space for a jumper. Dallas put DeShawn Stevenson on Durant for a while, then Kidd, and it helped the Mavericks get back into the game. Stevenson tied it with a three-pointer and the Mavs even went ahead by four. Oklahoma City regained the lead with 7.5 seconds left on a four-point play by Harden, courtesy of a silly foul by Terry.