In back-to-back playoff road games, the Dallas Mavericks showed convincingly they can win both early and late.
In turn, the Oklahoma City Thunder was slapped with book-end defeats with a horrendous beginning that was capped by a devastating conclusion.
In Game 3 on Saturday night, the Mavs built a 23-point lead in the second quarter. The Thunder narrowed the deficit to four within the final minute, but Dallas held steady for a 93-87 victory.
On Monday night, OKC owned a 15-point lead with less than five minutes remaining, but the Thunder was anything but steady. The Mavs closed out regulation with a 17-2 run and went on to post a 112-105 victory before a devastated sellout crowd inside Oklahoma City Arena.
Both teams showed their age. A veteran Dallas group was wise enough to realize being down 15 with less than five minutes remaining does not mean the game is over, which quickly became a harsh lesson learned for a naïve OKC team.
"Five minutes left in a game is a long time," Mavs reserve guard Jason Terry said afterward.
Interestingly enough, a Thunder squad that frequently had been fidgety at the outset of playoffs home games got off to an impressive start. OKC jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter and never trailed in regulation.
Dallas didn't take its first lead until overtime, and never lost it.
"If this loss did not hurt, there's no such thing as a loss that can hurt you," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
The Mavs now own a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals, with Game 5 on Wednesday at 8 p.m. inside American Airlines Center in Dallas. In the NBA, the team with a 3-1 lead has won the playoff series 96 percent of the time.
With a loss, the Thunder would be eliminated, and the next phase of the downtown arena refurbishing project is free to commence.
With a win, the Thunder would force Game 6 back home on Friday at 8 p.m.
After a Kevin Durant 3-pointer with 5:05 left in regulation gave the Thunder a 99-84 lead, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called timeout and proceeded to tell his talented team it essentially was on its own.
"At that point in time we realized, 'What do we have to lose?' " said Terry, who finished with 20 points, five rebounds and four steals.
Asked what he instructed his team to do offensively, Carlisle said, "Let the guys play. I mean, I don't know if I called any plays during that period of time. We've really worked at becoming a good flow team, which means you're just playing basketball off each other."
Meanwhile, the Thunder froze — offensively and defensively — as the Mavericks outscored OKC 28-6 in the final 9:49 of play.
In the fourth quarter, Dirk Nowitzki scored 12 of his 40 points and the Mavs converted 9 of 11 free throws, while the Thunder countered with 29.2-percent shooting (7 for 24) from the field, nine fouls and five turnovers.
Amazingly, OKC lost despite having a 55-33 rebounding advantage, which included a 20-5 margin on the offensive end. The Thunder also had nine blocked shots to the Mavs' two.
"The one thing about this team all year is it's been a resourceful group," Carlisle said.
"Our guys are very resilient," Brooks said.
In the end, resourceful triumphed over resilient.