I gave the Mavs no chance last night in Oklahoma City. Fortunately, neither did the Thunder.
From a cutesy lil’ pre-game dance routine featuring Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne trying out for Glee to Kevin Durant non-chalantly and repeatedly taking ill-advised shots, the Thunder didn’t take the Mavs serious Monday night.
And, really, who could blame them?
The Mavs were swept by the Thunder in the 2012 playoffs. They didn’t beat OKC during this regular season. And on Saturday night in the same building they lost by a whopping 38 points. Without three (Chandler Parsons, J.J. Barea, David Lee) of their top six players and with Deron Williams severely limited by a hernia, the Mavs had no shot.
Alas, they did have pride. And they did have head coach Rick Carlisle.
The under-manned Mavs sill won’t win this series. But they proved last night why the Thunder will never win a championship. They’re all dash-and-flash and in an open-court, free-flowing game Westbrook and Durant are one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos. But the Mavs slowed the pace, ratcheted up the physicality and made the pretty boys gets their hands dirty.
The result was one of the most exhilarating, satisfying playoff wins in Mavs’ history.
In daring to break up Westbrook’s ridiculous pre-game prancing, Mavs Charlie Villanueva and Justin Anderson reminded me of Dennis Thurman interrupting the Redskins’ “Fun Bunch” celebration in the ‘80s or George Teague leveling Terrell Owens on the Cowboys’ star in ’00. They were humiliated in Game 1. It would not happen again in Game 2.
Grumbled Durant of the Mavs’ intrusion, “That’s fake (stuff).” I can only assume he was talking about his teammates’ nauseating lil’ preening.
The effort was inspired by Williams and Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris and Raymond Felton. The execution was designed by Rick Carlisle who – because of this game alone – deserves to be Coach of the Year.
On March 28 the Mavs were dead and the playoffs were a long-shot. Part inspiration and part motivation, Carlisle changed his team’s identity overnight. They slowed the pace. Walked the ball up the court. Started grinding out possessions and quarters and, yes, wins. It’s not pretty. But it’s their only chance to beat the Thunder.
OKC would’ve swept the Mavs in a track meet. Deteriorate it into mud wrestling and Dallas might win a game. Or two?
Durant missed 26 shots. He and Westbrook went 1 of 12 in the final six minutes. That won’t happen again in this series, these playoffs or maybe ever.
But on one magical night the Mavs proved that better effort can still trump superior talent. And they reminded us that sports is still by far the best reality show on the planet.
The Top 15 Playoff Wins in Mavs' History:
15. April 2, 1988: Mavs 105, Lakers 103 – Dallas more than proves it belongs on the same court with the star-studded Lakers of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy by forcing a Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. A young center named Roy Tarpley seals the tense, home victory with a shocking block of Jabbar in the final minute.
14. May 9, 2003: Mavs 113, Spurs 110 – After surviving Game 7s in the first two rounds against the Blazers and Kings, Don Nelson’s up-tempo team shocks the heavily favored Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals with an uncanny shooting performance. The Mavs, led by Dirk Nowitzki’s 17-of-17 performance, make an uncanny 49 of 50 free throws (Eduardo Najera ruins the perfection) to upset San Antonio.
13. May 5, 1988: Mavs 107, Rockets 97: In one of the best shooting performances in franchise history, Mark Aguirre pours in 24 points in the first quarter en route to a 38-point night that helps Dallas win Game 4 and its first-round series over Houston at The Summit.
12. May 3, 2001: Mavs 84, Jazz 83 – After a 10-year absence from the playoffs, Dallas loudly announces its return by ushering in the era of owner Mark Cuban and a third-year forward named Dirk Nowitzki that would become a post-season mainstay for the next 12 years. Michael Finley scores 33 points, but it’s center Calvin Booth’s layup in the final minute that leads Dallas to a Game 5 upset of John Stockton, Karl Malone and the stunned Jazz in Salt Lake City.
11. May 23, 2011: Mavs 112, Thunder 105 – Down 15 points in Oklahoma City with five minutes remaining in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, Nowitzki’s 40 points and Jason Kidd’s savvy plays in the clutch lead a dramatic rally for an overtime win that gives Dallas a commanding 3-1 series lead and totally deflates the young Thunder.
10. April 19, 1985: Mavs 139, Blazers 131 – Rolando Blackman scores 43 points and the Mavs rally from 16 points down to win Game 1 of their first-round series in a thrilling double-overtime classic witnessed by Reunion Arena and its Rowdies.
9. April 23, 1987: Mavs 151, Sonics 129 – Dallas opens Game 1 of the playoffs with a historic blowout, putting up a franchise playoff-record 151 points despite going 0 of 3 on 3-pointers. It is short-lived, however, as the Mavs lose the next three games of the series and are eliminated.
8. April 18, 2016: Mavs 85, Thunder 84 – After losing by 38 points in Game 1 and watching Russell Westbrook do a cocky, joyful pre-game dance before Game 2, a depleted Mavs’ roster missing three of its top six players rides an unlikely Raymond Felton performance to a shocking upset as Stephen Adams’ last-second putback comes after the buzzer.
7. May 8, 2011: Mavs 122, Lakers 86 – The Mother's Day Massacre features Dallas sweeping the Lakers and sending Phil Jackson into retirement by splashing a playoff-record 20 3-pointers in a laugher. It is only Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals, but there’s always something special about beating L.A. in the postseason.
6. April 26, 2014: Mavs 109, Spurs 108 – For sheer hold-your-breath drama and oh-my-God! exaltation, Vince Carter’s corner 3-pointer that swished at the buzzer and beat eventual champ San Antonio in Game 3 in 2014 might be the most dramatic shot in franchise history.
5. June 1, 2006: Mavs 117, Suns 101 – With the Western Conference Finals tied at 2-2, Dirk Nowitzki hangs 50 points on Phoenix and old buddy Steve Nash to take a giant step toward their first NBA Finals berth. Dirk makes 5 of 6 3-pointers, 17 of 18 free throws and, just for fun, adds 12 rebounds in one of the most dominant clutch performances in franchise history.
4. June 9, 2011: Mavs 112, Heat 103 – Jason Terry hits a long, late 3-pointer in LeBron James’ mug and the Mavs hold on to win Game 5 of the NBA Finals, taking a 3-2 lead headed back to Miami. Over 30 years as a sportswriter in DFW, it remains the loudest building I’ve ever been in.
3. May 22, 2006: Mavs 119, Spurs 111 – Capping a fierce, fantastic series, Nowitzki’s driving three-point play over Manu Ginobli punctuates a 37-point, 15-rebound performance and forces overtime, where the Mavs win Game 7 to shock San Antonio and move to the Western Conference Finals.
2. April 26, 1984: Mavs 105, Sonics 104 – In their first ever playoff series, Dallas has to move its Game 5 to SMU because Reunion Arena had long ago booked a tennis tournament. The Mavs trail by seven with two minutes remaining, force overtime and win the decisive game in a packed, raucous college gym. Long live Moody Madness.
1. June 12, 2011: Mavs 105, Heat 95 – There’s nothing like your first trophy, especially when it remains your only. Terry scores 27 points, Nowitzki is named MVP and Cuban hugs founding father Don Carter on the hated Heat’s home floor. Cue the chill bumps.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.