Now we know.
Now we know why experience matters. Now we know why you've got to pay your dues.
Now we know why young teams, no matter how good, no matter how talented, now matter how athletic, no matter how blessed, eventually get derailed in this meat-grinder known as the NBA playoffs.
The old Mavericks beat the young Thunder 112-105 in overtime for the simplest of reasons.
The tortoise kept running. The hare, not so much.
Ahead 99-84 with less than five minutes left, the Thunder choked. Stopped short of the finish line in a game it had to win for any reasonable hope of reaching the NBA Finals.
Now, the Mavs have a three games to one lead in this series and seem perfectly capable of ending this with a gentle push in Game 5 Wednesday night.
In the last five minutes of regulation, Dallas outscored the Thunder 17-2. In the last 41 seconds of overtime, the Mavs outscored OKC 7-0.
The Mavs played smart and possessed. The Thunder played reckless and stupid.
Bad shots. Turnovers. Idiotic fouls. What-was-he-thinking decisions.
A despondent Kevin Durant claimed youth had nothing to do with it.
“This is basketball, man,” Durant said. “Our youth has nothing to do with what we were doing on the floor. We've showed we can play on this level.”
Better hope he's wrong. Youth means you can grow out of this kind of choke. If youth has nothing to do with it, a game like this could scar the franchise.
The Thunder lost its edge, then lost its mind.
“Was that youth?” asked Thunder coach Scotty Brooks. “I don't know. That's how we've had some success all year, playing with a young team.”
But for 60 years, NBA veterans have talked about how everything changes in the playoffs.
And while Durant technically was right — the Thunder has shown it can play on this level, it has not shown it can win on this level.
A few examples of the Blunder Up:
*Thrice in the last four minutes, the Thunder fouled in the backcourt, which meant the Mavs went to the foul line and could slice away at the lead with no time off the clock.
*In overtime, with the score tied at 103, Russell Westbrook sprinted downcourt and tried to save a ball that clearly had been last touched by Dallas' Jason Terry. Giving a free possession, Terry sank a go-ahead basket.
*The Thunder made three shots in the final 10 minutes, by Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder missed 13 shots, and it was no coincidence. Teams generally miss bad shots. Westbrook missed five shots; Durant missed six.
But hey, give the Mavericks credit. Down 15 with legs worn out chasing around Durant and Westbrook for 43 futile minutes, it would have been easy for Dallas to shut it down and think about Game 5. Heck, one or two makes by the Thunder, one or two misses by the Mavs, and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle would have emptied his bench.
Instead, Carlisle emptied his chamber. Dirk Nowitzki, who had been bottled up in the second half by Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, exploded for 12 points in the final 4:34, including nine in a four-possession span.
“We have a group of guys that are veteran,” Carlisle said. “We've got some really high IQ guys that know each other's strengths.”
The Mavs' lineup that last five minutes of regulation consisted of three 33-year-olds (Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry), 28-year-old Tyson Chandler and 38-year-old Jason Kidd.
Ponce de Leon himself hit the game-winner, a 3-pointer with 40.3 seconds left that broke a 105-105 tie.
The poorly named Kidd is everything the Thunder is not. Old. Wise. Close to the hardwood when he jumps. Savvy. Tough at the end of games.
And in command of the NBA's Western Conference Finals.
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.