DALLAS – Jason Terry, who in these parts is called The Jet, drove freely to the basket way back in the second quarter, when this still was a ballgame.
The Mavericks trailed by just six, Terry was about to make it a four-point game and American Airlines Center was ready for liftoff.
Enter Serge Ibaka.
Air Congo flew in from behind, let Terry release the ball and swatted the ball to Grand Prairie.
The Rawlings looked like it had been shot out of a cannon. It sailed on a line sideways, the 25 feet to the out-of-bounds line and beyond. Over the heads of the rich and famous in the Nicholson seats. Past the peasants sitting behind them.
The ball landed about seven rows up, with all the velocity of a baseball line drive.
Holy guacamole, Mav fans seemed to say. And their team seconded the motion.
The Thunder routed Dallas 95-79 Thursday night – it was 95-69 when Scotty Brooks grounded his fleet – and took a 3-0 lead in this Western Conference playoff series.
Many are the reasons the Thunder won with ease. Kevin Durant opened the game hot. Russell Westbrook opened the second half hot. The Boomers took care of the ball.
But reason No. 1 is because Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins claimed the two most precious pieces of real estate on the court. The rim and the paint.
The Thunder big men contested every close shot, grabbed every grabbable rebound and didn't let Dirk Nowitzki and friends have anything easy.
Ibaka blocked four shots and it seemed like 40. “He's a presence in there,” Mav coach Rick Carlisle said. “They have a presence at the rim that's effective.”
Said Nowitzki, “Serge Ibaka took a step forward. He's the best shot blocker in the league.”
Perkins bullied any Mav who dared enter the lane; Dallas center Brendan Haywood had four shots in the first six minutes, all from dunk range, and made just one. Carlisle was so exasperated, he took Haywood out of the game and never put him back.