Champion Mavs head home, trailing Thunder 2-0

Associated Press Published: May 1, 2012
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Last postseason, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks rode a wave of late-game comebacks to win the franchise's first NBA title.

Now the Oklahoma City Thunder are showing the Mavs how it feels to be on the other side.

Russell Westbrook scored 29 points, Kevin Durant added 26 in an off-shooting performance and Oklahoma City clawed out a 102-99 victory over Dallas on Monday night to take a 2-0 lead in their first-round Western Conference playoff series.

The Mavericks led in the final minute in both road games so far, but couldn't even manage a split as the Thunder gutted out two wins by a total of four points.

"We just haven't made enough plays. It is tough, there's no question about it," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've had opportunities and we haven't cashed in. They've made one more play than we have in both games. That's how playoff basketball is."

Durant hit two free throws with 50.4 seconds left to give Oklahoma City a 98-97 lead, and reserve James Harden hit all four of his foul shots after that to close it out for the Thunder.

Jason Terry missed two 3-point attempts from the left wing in the final 5 seconds that could have tied it and set up overtime. Instead, the defending champs head back home facing what amounts to a must-win Game 3 on Thursday night in Dallas.

"That's really all we need right now is to get on the board on Thursday," said Nowitzki, who led Dallas with 31 points but missed both his shots in the final 75 seconds.

"I still think the guys are upbeat, even though we're down 2-0. The guys know that we're right there. We're still in this if we get the game on Thursday."

If not, the Thunder will take a big step toward avenging last year's 4-1 loss in the Western Conference finals.

"Obviously, they have been here last year so they know what it takes," Harden said. "We've made it pretty far, so we know what it takes.

"It's going to be a battle."

Durant put the Thunder ahead to stay after salvaging two key points with Oklahoma City inbounding the ball with only 2.6 seconds left on the shot clock. He grabbed the inbounds pass from Harden while headed toward the sideline, and Terry was called for a foul for bumping him.

Durant hit both foul shots, and Nowitzki missed his chance to answer with a fade-away 12-foot jumper from the left side.

Harden, only eight days removed from sustaining a concussion as the result of elbow from Metta World Peace, grabbed the rebound on Nowitzki's shot and got fouled to set up the first of his four clinching free throws in the last 26 seconds.

"That's what the playoffs are about," Westbrook said. "Toughness."

The late-game struggles are exactly the opposite of last year's championship run, when the Mavs got two fourth-quarter rallies while sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers and closed out the Thunder with back-to-back comebacks from deficits of 15 and eight points in the fourth quarter.

But it's a continuation of the regular-season series, when Dallas led in the final 3 minutes of both games in Oklahoma City and lost them both.