Jose Calderon found himself wide open from 25 feet out, the hottest shooter on the floor with a hand-delivered opportunity to send the game to overtime.
Then minutes later, the Thunder left Dirk Nowitzki by his lonesome, one of the greatest shooters in the game’s history with an unopposed look that he can drop in his sleep.
Splash. Splash. Mavs 128, Thunder 119 in overtime.
A wild, competitive, playoff-level game that could have gone either way.
But a Thunder loss that can be blamed on too much Nowitzki, too much Calderon and far too many defensive lapses with the game on the line.
“I thought a couple plays down the stretch we could have done a better job securing the rebound and contesting their shots,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
The first came with 30 seconds left in regulation, with the Thunder leading by three. After a cold-blooded Kevin Durant triple, Nowitzki missed a potential answer. But the ensuing rebound — a 50-50 ball that could have potentially secured the game had it gone OKC’s way — was corralled by Brandon Wright.
Wright fired it out to Calderon at the top of the key. Tie ballgame.
“That was big,” Durant said.
With the shot, Calderon not only forced overtime, but also pressed Brooks into an intriguing decision. With Russell Westbrook on a minute restriction, and having already played 30, Brooks sat his All-Star point guard to start the extra session.
And by the time he brought Westbrook back, with two minutes left, the Thunder was in a seven-point hole. After the game, Brooks said he didn’t regret the decision, and Westbrook said he didn’t mind.
“That’s just part of the plan, ain’t nothing I can do about it,” Westbrook said. “… I want to play, but I got to think about the future, my health the next couple years.”
But despite the hole, the Thunder had a long-shot chance to pull it out with Westbrook back in the closing minutes.
Durant dropped in a floater, two of his game-high 43 points, cutting the Mavs’ lead to five with 1:50 left.
To have a chance, the Thunder needed stops. They never came.
Moments later, off a drive and kick from Monta Ellis, Nowitzki fired in that game-sealing dagger, the final three of his 32 points.
On the play, Durant — who guarded Nowitzki late in the game — was caught overhelping on a cutter, a defensive lapse that led to the easy 3-point look — a trend that’s been all too common for the Thunder defense this past month.
“When you’re playing team basketball, you gotta help over,” Durant said of the play. “You gotta give them credit, they ran a great play. Instead of giving a wide-open dunk, you gotta bump the guy rolling to the rim, which was me. I had a guy on the perimeter, which was Dirk, and he hit a shot.”
It was the Thunder’s second loss to the Mavs in the past nine days and dropped OKC to 52-19 on the season. The Thunder is now 2.5 games behind San Antonio for the top spot in the West.