DALLAS — Disaster and embarrassment and infamy filled the Thunder rearview mirror as the Mavericks threatened to post a comeback for the ages Monday night.
Twentysomething seconds left, the Thunder up two after leading by 15 less than five minutes previous, needing a basket to stave off an epic collapse, Kevin Durant passed the ball.
To Thabo Sefolosha. And I have no problem with that.
You know the rest. Thabo missed an open corner jumper, Dallas forced overtime and the Mavs won 112-105 to effectively end the Western Conference Finals. Coronation is set for Wednesday night with Game 5.
Will such a meltdown have lasting impact on this franchise that could/should run at least this deep in the NBA playoffs for several more seasons? Only if the Thunder fails to recognize how it happened.
And here's how. A total offensive train wreck. One basket in those final five minutes. Only two foul shots (both missed). Two turnovers. Eleven possessions, two points.
James Harden foolishly fouled out after the first of those possessions, at which point the Mavericks committed to all-out blitz.
“James ... takes a lot of pressure off me and Russell,” Durant said.
Dallas double-teamed Durant whenever he had the ball. Double-teamed Russell Westbrook on all pick-and-rolls.
“The other guys were kind of helping and zoning,” said Mav star Dirk Nowitzki.
Said Dallas center Brendan Haywood, “When Harden fouled out, we then focused all of our attention on KD. We really shrunk the court ... everybody was concentrating on not letting KD get to the hole, so he was forced to throw deep jumpers without Harden to space the court for him.”
That's desperation defense. Selling out to stop two players is not fundamental in the NBA. But it paid off because the Thunder wilted under the pressure.
Durant didn't pass quick enough or smart enough or well enough out of double teams. Westbrook didn't recognize the double teams soon enough to swing the ball elsewhere. Coach Scotty Brooks failed to get another scorer on the court, Daequan Cook, for example, who by all means has Dallas' attention this series.
“They were loading one side whenever KD had the ball,” Sefolosha said. “They were playing zone defense on the opposite side. We need to move the ball a little more. It was a little too stagnant.”
The Mavericks pounced on a Thunder bugaboo. Lack of crisp passing. For all the wonderful things these Boomers do, quick and efficient passing is not one of them.
That proved fatal Monday night.
You can blame Westbrook's lack of quarterbacking skill, but you also can blame Durant's weakness with the ball (a ridiculous nine turnovers in Game 4). And you can blame a lack of offensive weapons.
Harden is a good player who gets better by the week and might be a star. Manu Ginobili with a beard.
But in May 2011, Harden shouldn't hold all the hope of the Thunder offense in his skilled left hand.
The idea that Durant or Russell Westbrook are going to have to make all the plays for the Thunder in crunch time, this post-season or future, is silly.
The NBA superstar culture has produced this belief that stars have to take over down the stretch. Good if you can get it — Durant in Game 5 of the Denver series, for example — but elite playoff teams can nix such plans.
That's why Harden's so valuable on the court, as a third scorer, but the Thunder has to rely on its other guys, too.
Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Sefolosha were on the court during the collapse. That's not OKC's best offensive trio along side Durant and Westbrook, but it's not terrible.
And those three weren't the problem, other than passivity. Those last 10 minutes, when the Thunder scored just six points down the stretch of regulation plus overtime, Ibaka and Sefolosha each were 1-of-2 shooting, and Collison didn't shoot. All three Thunder turnovers in those 10 minutes were committed by Durant (two) and Westbrook.
What happened is abundantly clear. The Mavs dared someone else to beat them, and the Thunder didn't double dare.
That has to change next season. This series is too late, but next season, when the Thunder might enter as the West favorite, Brooks has to demand more offense than just from Batman and the Riddler.
More minutes for Harden, probably starting, but that's not enough. Ibaka, who with 18 points and 10 rebounds was superb in Game 4, should become a bigger scorer. Heck, I don't think Collison shoots enough.
And give me more Thabo, in the right situation.
My only gripe about that Durant pass to Sefolosha was that it resulted in a 3-point try. Sefolosha in Game 4 scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He missed both his 3-point shots.
No surprise there. Thabo this season was a Swiss Miss from 3-point range, 27.5 percent. But Sefolosha made 55.8 percent of his 2-point shots. And in the playoffs, those numbers are even more exaggerated: 4-of-26 on 3-pointers, 65.9 percent on 2-pointers.
Give me less Sefolosha from beyond the arc and more Sefolosha from inside the arc. “I totally agree,” Thabo himself said. “Especially in a series, when they know exactly what you're going to run.”
Overtime was telling. The Thunder got two decent shots. A 20-footer by Thabo and a 17-footer by Ibaka. Those two shots provided all four Thunder points in overtime.
Dallas was willing to give the Thunder good shots down the stretch, so long as Durant and Westbrook didn't take them. The Thunder, next season and beyond, has to be willing to let the non-stars shoot in crunch time.
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.