DALLAS — Everyone in American Airlines Center kept looking over at the scorer's table in the fourth quarter.
Time kept ticking. Nine minutes left, six minutes, three minutes left. The Thunder clung to a lead that wavered between tense and perilous, and eyes kept drifting to that table.
Surely Russell Westbrook would return. Surely he would bring some fellow starters with him.
But Scotty Brooks never pulled the trigger. And it earned him the Thunder's biggest win ever.
The Thunder stunned the high-riding Dallas Mavericks 106-100 Thursday night to even the Western Conference Finals at one game apiece. And the Thunder did it with Kevin Durant and the B team.
Durant, Eric Maynor, James Harden, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook played the entire fourth quarter, until Collison fouled out with 36.7 seconds left in the game. The only other Thunder substitution came with Thabo Sefolosha's return with 12.7 seconds left, for defensive purposes.
The Thunder's biggest win, and Brooks' finest hour. The vanilla coach talks in clichés, but he proved Thursday night he lives by some of the stuff he says.
That jargon about believing in all his players? What could prove it more than sticking with reserves with the season on the line?
Not many NBA coaches would be secure enough or crazy to sit an all-star point guard the entire fourth quarter, especially since Westbrook had played rather well for three quarters.
Gutsy move by the low-key Brooks. Gutsy and wonderfully successful.
Brooks admitted he was tempted to return Westbrook to the game, especially when the Mavs got within 102-96 in the final two minutes.
But “I believe in all our guys,” Brooks said. “I believe in what they do out there.”
The small lineup worked. While Dirk Nowitzki made the Thunder pay with 16 fourth-quarter points, the only other Mav to make a basket was J.J. Barea, who nailed two 3-pointers.
“If you would tell me they would leave Westbrook out the whole fourth quarter, and we don't get stops to win...” said Nowitzki.
The Thunder played exquisite offense in the fourth quarter. Took a 77-76 lead into the final period, courtesy of Harden's four-point play, and expanded on it.
The Thunder scored 29 points in the fourth, none of them hollow. All but Sefolosha's two foul shots with 8.4 seconds left were in the flow of the offense. Durant and the B team made 11 of 17 shots and committed just one turnover, and it wasn't even Durant who led them.
Durant missed four of his six shots in the fourth quarter, but Harden was 4-of-5, Maynor 2-of-3 and Cook 2-of-2.
“We had a good rhythm going,” said Cook. “Once we got the lead up, coach felt a lot more confident. Just goes to the type of confidence he has in us. Usually, coach goes with who is playing well.”
The belief came at a price. More Westbrook soap opera. I guess he's going to be a lightning rod no matter the plot.
Westbrook threw a mini-tantrum when exiting late in the third quarter and had to be calmed down by assistants and teammates. But by game's end, Westbrook seemed fine, even danced in the tunnel leaving the court.
Either way, the fourth quarter of Game 2 of a conference finals is no place for worrying about feelings. Maynor was playing a mean quarterback down the stretch. No reason to pull the hot hand.
“Everybody on the team's comfortable with Eric on the floor,” said Collison. “We had it going pretty good. I don't think (Brooks) wanted to mess with it.”
Five times early in the quarter, the Mavs cut their deficit to one. Four of the five times, the Thunder answered with baskets — by Cook, Durant, Harden and Maynor.
The lone time the Thunder failed to score down one, it repelled Dallas when Nowitzki missed a paint jumper — contested by Cook, of all people.
An amazing performance by role players. An amazing performance by the likes of Maynor and Cook, whose usual job is to hold the fort for a few minutes, then call in the cavalry.
The cavalry never came, because it wasn't summoned. And now we've got a series.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.