THUNDER 104, DALLAS 102 (Dec. 29; Chesapeake Energy Arena): Though this was played in the opening week, it had the feel of the Western Conference Finals. Vince Carter buried a 3-pointer to give Dallas a 102-101 lead with 1.4 seconds left. Kevin Durant capped that with a 27-foot catch-and-shoot from the right wing to win it at the buzzer in a nationally televised game on TNT.
Afterthought: Though the Mavs are missing key pieces from their world championship roster and got off to an 0-3 start after this result, the rivalry between these franchises undoubtedly had intensified — at least from OKC's point of view.
DALLAS 102, THUNDER 87 (Jan. 2; American Airlines Center): Four days after receiving a Durant dagger, the Mavs evened the series with a convincing victory at home. Dirk Nowitzki broke out of an early season shooting slump to score 26 on 10-of-16 shooting, and the Dallas bench chipped in 47 points. The Mavericks led by double-digits for 12 of the last 13 minutes.
Afterthought: Dallas showed signs of life as the reigning champions in this game, despite improving to just 2-4. Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd didn't score a point and took only one shot, but he ran the show with nine assists.
THUNDER 95, DALLAS 86 (Feb. 1; American Airlines Center): The Mavs were at home, on a three-game winning streak, had won six of their last seven and owned a 52-49 lead at halftime against OKC, but the Thunder allowed just 34 second-half points. Durant had 23 points and 13 rebounds, Russell Westbrook had 33 points and Serge Ibaka set a career high at that time with 10 blocks.
Afterthought: This victory upped the Thunder's season record to 17-4 as OKC continued to show all those preseason predictions of the fledging franchise representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals weren't so far-fetched.
THUNDER 95, DALLAS 91 (March 5; Chesapeake Energy Arena): The Thunder posted its 13th straight win at home, despite the Big Three of Durant (6 for 18), Westbrook (6 for 20) and James Harden (4 for 11) shooting a combined 16 for 49 from the field. Once again, OKC's saving grace was timely defense and converting 29 of 33 (. 879) attempts from the free-throw line.
Afterthought: After surviving this game against the Mavs, the Thunder was on a roll at 30-8 overall and 16-1 at home. More important, OKC's regular-season series against the reigning world champions already was complete.
2011 WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS REVIEW
GAME 1: DALLAS 121, THUNDER 112 (May 17; American Airlines Center): Nine days after their second-round playoff sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks continued to sizzle against the Thunder, which advanced to the Western Conference Finals after a seven-game fist fight against the surging Memphis Grizzlies. OKC led 27-20 after the first quarter, then got outscored 101-85 thereafter.
Afterthought: Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki scored 48 points on just 15 field-goal attempts, going 12 for 15 from the field and 24 for 24 from the free-throw-line. Kevin Durant scored 40, going 10 for 18 from the field and 18 for 19 at the line.
GAME 2: THUNDER 106, DALLAS 100 (May 19; American Airlines Center): OKC coach Scott Brooks started the fourth quarter with the makeshift lineup of Durant, Harden, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor and Daequan Cook and clinging to a one-point lead. A 14-5 spurt put OKC ahead by 10 with 3:15 remaining and the Mavs lost for the first time at home in the postseason.
Afterthought: In Game 1, Dallas reserves outscored the Thunder bench 53-22. In Game 2, OKC reserves outscored the Mavs' bench 50-29. “You can't mess that chemistry up,” Durant said. “Coach made a good decision by doing that.”
GAME 3: DALLAS 93, THUNDER 87 (May 21; Oklahoma City Arena): Playing at home for the first time in the conference finals, OKC was tight early. The Mavs jumped out to a 27-12 lead after the first quarter and led 65-44 with 17½ minutes to go. The Thunder stormed back to within four points on two occasions in the final 24 seconds but could get no closer as Dallas took a 2-1 series lead.
Afterthought: The big stage undoubtedly got in the heads of OKC's young roster, though no one admitted such. Gallant as the Thunder's comeback was, it had given back the advantage it had earned with the upset victory in Dallas.
GAME 4: DALLAS 112, THUNDER 105-OT (May 23; Oklahoma City Arena): Leading 99-84 with less than five minutes remaining, the Thunder seemed to have evened the series at 2-2. Instead, the series completely flipped. Behind clutch play from Nowitzki (40 points) and Jason Kidd (17 points; go-ahead 3-pointer in OT), the Mavs closed with a 17-2 surge and never led until overtime.
Afterthought: Make a wish, Dallas. “You're lying if you're not surprised. Down 15 with five minutes to play, you're thinking hopefully something can happen,” Mavs center Brendan Haywood said afterward. “You're just kind of wishing.”
GAME 5: DALLAS 100, THUNDER 96 (May 25; American Airlines Center): In the aftershock of one of the worst collapses in playoff history just two days earlier, the Thunder impressively owned a six-point lead with 4½ minutes left in this one. However, the Mavs closed the game with a 14-4 run and took the lead for good on a Nowitzki 3-pointer with 1:14 remaining to close out the series.
Afterthought: Dallas no doubt was deserving of the NBA Finals and went 12-3 in the playoffs to get there, but the Thunder blew back-to-back opportunities to win Games 4 and 5. Credit the Mavs, but OKC helped them along the way.
BY JOHN ROHDE