THUNDER 104, DALLAS 102 (Dec. 29; Chesapeake Energy Arena): Though this was played in the opening week, it had the feel of the Western Conference Finals. Vince Carter buried a 3-pointer to give Dallas a 102-101 lead with 1.4 seconds left. Kevin Durant capped that with a 27-foot catch-and-shoot from the right wing to win it at the buzzer in a nationally televised game on TNT.
Afterthought: Though the Mavs are missing key pieces from their world championship roster and got off to an 0-3 start after this result, the rivalry between these franchises undoubtedly had intensified — at least from OKC's point of view.
DALLAS 102, THUNDER 87 (Jan. 2; American Airlines Center): Four days after receiving a Durant dagger, the Mavs evened the series with a convincing victory at home. Dirk Nowitzki broke out of an early season shooting slump to score 26 on 10-of-16 shooting, and the Dallas bench chipped in 47 points. The Mavericks led by double-digits for 12 of the last 13 minutes.
Afterthought: Dallas showed signs of life as the reigning champions in this game, despite improving to just 2-4. Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd didn't score a point and took only one shot, but he ran the show with nine assists.
THUNDER 95, DALLAS 86 (Feb. 1; American Airlines Center): The Mavs were at home, on a three-game winning streak, had won six of their last seven and owned a 52-49 lead at halftime against OKC, but the Thunder allowed just 34 second-half points. Durant had 23 points and 13 rebounds, Russell Westbrook had 33 points and Serge Ibaka set a career high at that time with 10 blocks.
Afterthought: This victory upped the Thunder's season record to 17-4 as OKC continued to show all those preseason predictions of the fledging franchise representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals weren't so far-fetched.
THUNDER 95, DALLAS 91 (March 5; Chesapeake Energy Arena): The Thunder posted its 13th straight win at home, despite the Big Three of Durant (6 for 18), Westbrook (6 for 20) and James Harden (4 for 11) shooting a combined 16 for 49 from the field. Once again, OKC's saving grace was timely defense and converting 29 of 33 (. 879) attempts from the free-throw line.
Afterthought: After surviving this game against the Mavs, the Thunder was on a roll at 30-8 overall and 16-1 at home. More important, OKC's regular-season series against the reigning world champions already was complete.
2011 WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS REVIEW
GAME 1: DALLAS 121, THUNDER 112 (May 17; American Airlines Center): Nine days after their second-round playoff sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks continued to sizzle against the Thunder, which advanced to the Western Conference Finals after a seven-game fist fight against the surging Memphis Grizzlies. OKC led 27-20 after the first quarter, then got outscored 101-85 thereafter.