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Thunder 103, Mavs 97

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 6, 2012

Nuggets from my notebook from Saturday's clinching win at Dallas.

  • Remember the time when Thunder had no answer for Dirk Nowitzki? Remember when he thoroughly torched your team and there wasn't a thing OKC could do about it? Remember how you watched Dirk demolish the Thunder and could only think about how bad you wanted a player like that? Well meet James Harden. The Thunder's sixth man stuck it to Dallas again in the playoffs. This time he did it while delivering a win. When does Harden get his own "BIG" commercial, NBA? Because that's what he was on this night, and it's what he's been all year.
  • Harden scored 15 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth quarter. He added three assists, all leading to 3-pointers, to lend a hand on nine additional points in the period. When the Thunder entered the fourth trailing by 13, the Thunder put the ball in Harden's hand and offered him nothing more than a simple ball screen. Harden did the rest, orchestrating, weaving, ducking and diving around, through and past the Dallas Mavericks to carry the Thunder to the finish line. When the Thunder erased that 13-point deficit and tied the score at 88-all in just 5 minutes, 54 seconds, it was James who scored or assisted on 18 of the Thunder's points in that 20-7 run.
  • Kevin Durant on Harden: 'He was phenomenal in the fourth. His pick-and-roll game is unreal. It's fun to watch, fun to be a part of."
  • Harden explaining his effectiveness: "Being in attack more. Scotty put the ball in my hands in the fourth quarter and he told me to make plays. So I was just trying to make plays."
  • Of all of Harden's jaw-dropping plays in the fourth quarter, the one that was the most amazing was his dagger, the driving finger-roll he put in with 10.2 seconds left. Here's why. Everybody in the building knew exactly what was coming. And still Harden got exactly what he wanted, exactly how he wanted it. That one play was the story of this game.
  • Harden's driving dunk with 6 1/2 minutes left was a close second. Once again, he abused Dallas with a simply ball screen, knifed his way into the lane, absorbed contact while protecting the ball and still flushed it with two hands. It was shockingly similar to something LeBron would do. There was grace. There was timing. There was power. Really, it looked like a real-life version of 2K12.
  • Speaking of 2K12, can we avoid all reference to Harden as "Big Game James?" That's played. Call him "Video Game James." It just fits.
  • This was the first sweep in Thunder history. And what a way to get it. OKC ousted the defending champs in the first round, making the Mavs just the fifth defending champion to fail to win a playoff game in its title defense. This was just the second first-round sweep of a defending champ in a seven-game series. Pretty impressive.
  • It was the 152nd sweep in NBA history and just the 60th in seven-game series.
  • The Thunder will move on to face the winner between the Lakers and Nuggets. Both will be tough matchups for the Thunder in their own separate ways. The Lakers obviously have Kobe Bryant and ample size to contend with, while the Nuggets have balance, speed and Ty Lawson.
  • I'm predicting the Lakers will go on to beat the Nuggets. While the exact date is still unknown, the earliest the Thunder will start its second round series will be Saturday. So because I think the Thunder will get the Lakers, and ABC loves the Lakers, I'm saying Game 1 of the Thunder's semifinal game will be Sunday. That would give OKC seven days rest. That will be a huge advantage for the Thunder.
  • It'll be a needed rest, too. Kendrick Perkins was knocked out of tonight's game with a right hip strain. He'll be evaluated Sunday and very likely will be listed as day-to-day. I can't and won't begin to assume how severe Perk's injury is. All I know is that it must have been pretty significant if he couldn't come back. He walked off the court with a pretty good limp and for that guy to not come back says he must have been pretty banged up. But, because of the lengthy layoff, I imagine Perk will be good to go for Game 1.
  • So much happened in this game that this can easily be overlooked. But I thought Serge Ibaka's block on Dirk Nowitzki's dunk attempt on the Mavs' opening possession was a tone-setting play. Ibaka came out of nowhere and sent it right back at Dirk and then hit him with the finger wag. Right then, you knew the Thunder was ready to take on Dallas' best shot.
  • Thunder coach Scott Brooks dressed down a courtside fan midway through the opening quarter. It was sort of a shocking development simply because it's never happened and it actually occurred while the ball was still in play. According to a member of the Dallas media who asked the fan about the exchange, Brooks took exception to the fan telling him to quit complaining about the officiating. But it was the fan's language that made Brooks' blood boil. Let's just say the guy shouted to Brooks to do something that rhymes with "stop snitching." Brooks almost immediately turned and told the fan to watch his language. The two resolved the matter extremely peacefully and respectfully. And Brooks actually showed a lot of class by speaking with the guy again and halftime and shaking hands while coming to a mutual agreement on the matter.
  • The Thunder's ball movement (22 assists) was extremely impressive throughout the game, but especially early on. OKC had seven assists on its first nine field goals and did a great job of playing unselfishly and just finding the open man for the best shot.
  • The early ball security wasn't so good. OKC had five first-quarter turnovers one game after giving it away just eight times total.
  • Turnovers and the Thunder's inability to control the defensive boards early helped the Mavs go into the locker room tied at 47-all. Take away those two and the Thunder might have had a 10-point lead, especially since the Thunder was shooting 52 percent to the Mavs' 42 percent. But OKC turned it over nine times in the first half and gave up six offensive rebounds. Those two things helped Dallas take 10 more shots (43-to-33) than the Thunder. Fortunately for OKC, the Mavs couldn't capitalize much. Dallas scored just two second-chance points off those offensive rebounds and turned those nine turnovers into just five points.
  • Russell Westbrook had a terrible offensive game. He scored 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting and missed all four of his 3-point shots...and he was a huge part of this win. Why? Defense. He came up with back-to-back steals at the five-minute mark, the first giving the Thunder the lead for good after Ibaka finished a fast break with a dunk.
  • And how about Westbrook giving it up to Ibaka on the break? Gotta love it when he does that.
  • Durant on Westbrook: "Russell was phenomenal for us. People probably won't talk about it but his defense was disruptive in the fourth. And he and James Harden's offensive input and Russ' defense is the reason we got that lead and kept the lead."
  • KD's six fourth-quarter boards were big. All six came on the defensive end, helping the Thunder close out possessions the right way to claw back early and keep the lead late.
  • You know what? The Thunder beat the Mavs nine out of 10 times this year, including the preseason. I don't care if it's the Bobcats. That's really, really hard to do. OK, maybe not against the Bobcats.
  • Can you imagine the Thunder, with its length and athleticism and versatility implementing and executing a matchup zone like Dallas? My goodness would that be smothering. Get on it Mr. Brooks.
  • Mavs coach Rick Carlisle on the Thunder: "The thing that impresses me the most about them is that they have a certain look in their eye right now. Not just that they belong but that this could be their time."
  • Carlisle also had gave it up to Brooks: "Scott Brooks is one of the best coaches in the game. I hope Sam's got enough money to sign him because he's going to be in high demand if they don't get that done."
  • One more from Carlisle, this one about how this series was similar to last season's: "In many ways, this was a mirror image of last year’s series, with the only difference being we weren’t able to get a game. I think five of those games last year could have gone either way. And three of these four could have gone either way, and they were the ones who got it done. So you have to tip your hat and give them credit. They’re going to be tough to beat."
  • Westbrook on how that West Final developed the Thunder: "It was a tough series for us last year. Obviously, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. But it taught us a lesson, to come back this year with a lot more toughness. I think we did that this series and throughout this season. And hopefully we can continue to do that.
  • Another key contributor that unfortunately might get overshadowed in this sweep and herculean performance by Harden is Derek Fisher. Fisher scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and showed his worth in the playoffs. I mean, the guy was absolutely awesome in this series, supplying sold defense, helping the Thunder when it needed to go small and hitting big shots and timely shots when the Thunder needed them most.
  • The Thunder suffered a mini-meltdown for a five-minute stretch in the third quarter. And it was the two captains that led the charge. First, KD barreled over Shawn Marion and was called for an offensive foul. Then Westbrook was whistled for a technical foul for swatting Dirk's arm off him after the two got tangled up. What made both so bad was they were unnecessary and came at a time when the Mavs were making a run. Durant and Thabo Sefolosha then both missed ill-advised 3-pointers on two of the Thunder's next three possessions, and it looked like the wheels were about to come completely off. But OKC held it together enough to have a shot in the fourth. Still, the Thunder will have to keep its emotions in check as the playoffs continue. Players can't lose their composure in key stretches like that against better teams like the Lakers and Spurs and Heat.
  • Dirk and Jason Kidd went bananas in the third quarter to push the Mavs lead to 13 at the end of the quarter. Nowitzki came out hot and finished with 12 points in the period. Kidd then took control late, at times looking like he was 25 again, doing whatever the game called for before finishing with nine points and four assists in the frame.
  • Brooks played a unit I'm positive I've never seen before. It was Russ, Fish, Harden, Daequan Cook and Nick Collison.
  • Is there a player in the NBA who initiates as much contact as Dirk and then gets fouls called in his favor? I think not.
  • Thunder heads were loud and proud inside the AAC tonight. There was at least 1,000 Thunder faithful in the building, and it was as impressive as a showing as I've ever seen out of Thunder fans. It reminded me of how Lakers, Bulls and Celtics fans take over other teams arenas during the regular season. For the Thunder to be in just its fourth year of existence, that's mighty remarkable. I'm told many Mavs fans jumped ship after Game 3 and put up their tickets to the highest bidder. That allowed OKC fans to make the short drive down I-35 and root for the boys in blue. And it seemed like someone coordinated orange shirts to make sure Thunder fans stood out. Great idea. It worked beautifully. But here's how boisterous Thunder heads were in Dallas. Every OKC bucket throughout the game was cheered. So loudly that the cheers filled the arena. They stood. They clapped. They yelled to the top of their lungs. Most impressively, when the Mavs PA guy urged the home crowd into chanting "Let's go Mavs" late in the game, Thunder heads drowned out the Dallas die-hards with an "O-K-C" chant. It will go down as a memorable moment in the Thunder's history. One of many on this night.
  • Up next. The second round.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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