Little Brother is growing up. What a difference a year makes.
The Thunder leads the Dallas Mavericks two games to none in a Western Conference playoff series that is as much hacksaws and switchblades as bounce passes and jump shots.
It hasn't been one bit easy. But it has been awfully telling.
The Thunder beat the Mavs 102-99 Monday night in a Game 2 that, just like Game 1, could have gone either way. But it went the Thunder's way because the Thunder didn't wilt.
Maverick sharpshooter Jason Terry has called the Thunder the little brother in this rivalry, and maybe that's true. But maybe not for long.
A year ago in the West finals, Dallas beat the Boomers with down-the-stretch execution. The Thunder didn't exactly execute its way to victory Monday, but it kept the Mavs from doing the same.
On Dallas' final five possessions, the Mavs scored just once — a virtual uncontested layup by Jason Terry that OKC was glad to give up, since it protected a three-point lead and forced the Mavs to play the foul game.
On this night, that was a loser for Dallas. The Thunder made 37 of 39 foul shots, with its final four points coming from James Harden at the line in the final 25.5 seconds.
In the final two minutes, the Thunder got a steal (Kevin Durant, on a Jason Kidd pass) and three other stops. Two Thunder thorns, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, combined to miss four shots in the final 73 seconds.
Terry's two misses came on the final possession, and when the latter bounced away, the Thunder had total control of a series that is shaping up to be incredibly well-balanced.
Much like last May. Except now it tilts toward the Thunder.
“That was a physical, intense, hard-fought playoff basketball game,” said Thunder coach Scotty Brooks. “I'm proud of our guys the way they battled at first there at the start and we finished up playing tough, hard, defensive-minded basketball.”
The Thunder survived another horrific shooting night from Durant (five of 17; that makes him 15 of 44 in the series). Durant had more turnovers (seven) than field goals. And yet OKC has won. If Durant breaks out — that's not assured, not with Shawn Marion making like Ponce de Leon – then the Thunder is likely to win easy one of these nights.
Until then, the Thunder will keep riding Russell Westbrook, who had another solid game: 29 points, 10 of 21 shooting. Westbrook's final four field goals wiped out Dallas leads; he hit the game's biggest shot, a 3-pointer that gave the Thunder an 89-88 lead.
Dallas grabbed one more lead, 97-96 on Vince Carter's muscle shot with 2:18 left, and the Mavs had two possessions to expand the lead. But Nowitzki missed a wide-open 3-pointer on one of the possessions, then the Thunder got a break.
The Thunder inbounded the ball under its basket with 2.6 seconds left in the shot clock but got the ball to Durant in a scramble near the corner. Durant exaggerated a bump from Terry, and the whistle-happy crew was more than happy to stop the game again.
Durant made two foul shots with 50.4 seconds left for a 98-97 lead. Fortune? Yes. That's what happens to big brothers.