Kendrick Perkins knew. Knew exactly how the Dallas Mavericks were going to play. Gran Torino didn't know if his Thunder teammates knew, but he did.
Physical. Energetic. Proud. Willful. Determined. Hungry. Tough. Deadline nears, so I better stop. But the list is long of words to describe the Mavs' 93-87 victory Saturday night in a game that was both huge in magnitude and in decisiveness.
“I know one thing,” Perk said in that low drawl that echoed around a near-empty Thunder locker room. “They're a veteran team. Their window is short. I knew what kind of team we were facing tonight.
“We were going to get a veteran team with their eye on the prize. You can't take no possessions off.”
The Thunder has this series' young legs and had this series' momentum and, heck, maybe this series' karma. But Dallas came to play, which makes up for bone and joint deficiencies.
“They came out and had a lot more energy than we did,” said Nick Collison, who usually is the Thunder's Mr. Hard Hat and I suppose was again. “They had more of an edge. I think they were the hungrier team.”
Which is inexcusable, even for these baby Boomers. In a game that determined which team was driving the Western Conference bus, the Thunder arrived unfashionably late. Aren't words like “energy” and “edge” just code for “wasn't ready to play”? Code for, withered at the challenge?
This game was similar to Game 1 of the Memphis series. Either because of fear or ignorance, the Thunder failed to adequately compete.
Scotty Brooks' boys finally got serious in the fourth quarter, but that meant virtually nothing except self pride.
Pay no attention to the final score behind the curtain. This was a blowout from the early moments on, made interesting late only because NBA Providence demands a late rally.
“We can't sport ‘em a 20-point lead and come back,” Collison said. “Eventually, they're going to get some stops, get some points.”
The truth is stark and sobering for a Thunder squad that with a victory would have been halfway home to the NBA Finals. No matter how much the players deny it, the Thunder played like a team just happy to be invited to the party, while the Mavs played like they were in the Roman Coliseum.
Dallas trapped and scrapped. Bodied and banged. The Mavs played Grizzlies-style; even got Memphis-like shooting from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry (a combined 10-of-33). The Mavs played for their lives and found their defensive mojo, which had been missing in this series' first two games.
The Mavs closed off the space that Kevin Durant found down in Dallas. Turned the vaunted Thunder bench back into pumpkins. Dallas had no real answer for Russell Westbrook's drives, because will only goes so far, but Westbrook can't beat a team by himself, not until his decision-making is pristine, which is a few years away. And the Mavs even beat up Westbrook to a certain extent.
“They were more physical at every position, I tell you that,” Perkins said. “Including myself.”
Don't let anyone — including Dallas coach Rick Carlisle — tell you his team won with its defense. It won on both ends of the court. With little help from their two primary scorers, the Mavericks were wonderfully efficient on offense.
When the score reached 35-12 after less than 14 minutes, the Mavs had made 15 of 26 shots, almost all the baskets being either 3-pointers or dunks or lay-ins that could have been dunks.
“We let our offense dictate our defense,” Perkins said. “We all just came in offensive-minded. Didn't think about getting stops. They got whatever they wanted.”
What the Mavs wanted in Oklahoma City was a series-turning victory. Mission accomplished in Game 3.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.