DALLAS — "We didn't crumble," three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant said after the Thunder's 103-97 series-clinching victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 on Saturday night.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle had a more graphic description.
"They came at us like a buzz saw in the fourth quarter," Carlisle said. "They made plays, we couldn't stop them and they were able to stop us enough."
Trailing 81-68 through three quarters, OKC blew the doors off the American Airlines Center by outscoring Dallas 35-16 in the final period to end the first-round playoff series as early as possible.
With Kendrick Perkins out with a hip injury since the first quarter, the Thunder went with an array of hodgepodge lineups and found itself on the ropes after getting outscored 34-21 in the third quarter.
Then came the buzz saw.
It began with a driving 10-footer from sixth man James Harden with 9 1/2 minutes left, which started a 12-0 spurt in slightly more than three minutes.
When Kevin Durant hit his second straight 3-pointer 3 1/2 minutes later, the Mavs' 13-point lead had evaporated, and the score was tied at 88.
With 3:00 left, OKC had completed a 23-5 run to take a 96-91 lead.
From there, it was a matter of being able to trade baskets, which was no small feat playing the defending world champions, who were fighting for survival at home.
Though his team scored 35 points in the final 12 minutes, Thunder coach Scott Brooks insisted the buzz saw was fueled by the OKC defense, which resulted in Dallas shooting 22.2 percent (4 for 18) from the field and scoring 19 fewer points.
"We kind of changed that around by really getting into the basketball, getting through screens," Brooks said. "Every time you have a screen, you have a choice. You either go through it, or get screened. We chose not to (get screened) in that fourth quarter and made them miss a lot of shots."
The Thunder's fourth-quarter box score was impressive:
— OKC shot 65.0 percent (13 for 20) from the field, 50.0 percent (3 for 6) from 3-point range and 85.7 percent (6 for 7) from the free-throw line.
— The Thunder had zero turnovers while Dallas had four turnovers, resulting in six points for OKC.
— The Thunder had five assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
— The Mavs had two assists, zero steals and one block.
Harden erupted for 15 points (6 for 9 from the field; 3 for 3 from the line) in the final 9:29, and also had three assists in the final period.
Durant added nine points (3 for 4 from the field; 2 for 3 from 3-points range), six huge rebounds and one blocked shot (a Dirk Nowitzki attempt underneath with 1:50 remaining).
Despite an off night shooting, Russell Westbrook had two key steals that helped give OKC the lead for good.
"Defense. I think it's just our team defense and toughness," Westbrook said of the comeback.
The defense now rests, awaiting the Los Angeles Lakers-Denver Nuggets winner.