Good news for the Thunder: Kevin Durant shot poorly until that feathery jumper in the final seconds that wouldn't have broken an egg shell but broke Maverick hearts.
Bad news for the Thunder: The old Russell Westbrook indeed has returned, now two games running, and Serge Ibaka produced a monster game. And still the Thunder needed a bounce just before the buzzer to beat the seventh-seeded Mavericks.
The Thunder beat Dallas 99-98 Saturday night in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series. Typical Thunder-Mavs.
Close all the way. Dallas beat OKC in five games of the 2011 West finals, with no game decided by double digits. Saturday night, neither team ever led by double digits.
So sit down, buckle in and get ready for a wild series.
“We're going to keep coming at these guys,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “Trust me.”
You don't have to convince us. With Jason Terry drilling jumper after jumper — hey, when is that guy going to graduate? — the Mavs looked very much like the team that last May denied the Thunder the NBA Finals.
Making life miserable for Durant. Getting efficient offense from Dirk Nowitzki even when his shot was off. Shawn Marion playing out of his mind. Terry being Terry.
But unlike last year, when the Thunder found a way to lose, the Boomers found a way to win.
Credit galore to the Durant shot with 1.5 seconds left that bounced off the front rim and fell through. But even more credit to Westbrook and Ibaka, who played huge on such a big stage.
Westbrook, mired in an April slump, had 28 points and five assists. He made 13 of 23 shots and kept the Thunder going when Durant kept missing shots. Westbrook broke out of his malaise against Denver in the regular-season finale, and if he keeps playing like this, the Thunder will ride high.
Ibaka was awesome, with 22 points (on 9-of-12 shooting), six rebounds and five blocked shots. His defense on Nowitzki was solid, and he still found a way to get back and protect the basket. That's a heck of a ballgame.
When the game looked precarious, both stood tall. Westbrook scored five straight points to forge an 80-80 tie with 6:13 left.
The Mavs zipped back in front by seven with three minutes left, but two Ibaka three-point plays changed momentum, the latter giving OKC a 97-96 lead with 53.9 seconds left. Both came off assists from Durant, who seems to realize that his passes can be as lethal as his shots.
“Just trying to make the right play,” Durant said. “That's what it's all about in the playoffs. Playing together. We don't care who scores.”
The Thunder is considered a top-heavy team, with Durant and Westbrook and often James Harden dominating the scoring. But the Thunder was a missed Harden foul shot from having four 20-point scorers Saturday night.
Get that kind of production, and a team can live with its biggest superstar missing 17 shots. Durant had 25 points but needed 27 shots to get them.
Don't expect that number to change a lot in this series. Dallas knows how to defend Durant. Proved it last year; proved it Saturday night.
But Durant's teammates are better this year. Westbrook is better. Harden is better. Ibaka is a lot better.
And now the Thunder is where it's never been before. Ahead of the Mavericks in a playoff series.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.