DALLAS — Kevin Durant's solemn streak reached day three Tuesday.
With his team facing elimination following a colossal collapse against Dallas in Game 4, the Oklahoma City Thunder star again was reduced to soft and short sentences while discussing his emotions and those of his team.
“It was a tough pill to swallow (Monday) night at home,” Durant said Tuesday afternoon before the team departed for Dallas for Wednesday's Game 5. “I didn't talk to nobody, my mom, my grandma. I usually have a good time with them. But it was tough.”
In the next breath, Durant, much like his teammates and coaches, tried to produce something positive, something that assured all hope is not lost and that this can still be a series.
“I got faith,” Durant said. “And I'm just going to lay it all on the line.”
The Mavericks have taken a mighty 3-1 lead in this Western Conference Final. To advance to its first-ever NBA Finals, the Thunder must now dig itself out of a hole from which only eight out of 200 teams have ever escaped. Not only must the Thunder win three straight, but it also has to steal two victories inside American Airlines Center and get the first while the pain of Monday's forgettable final 10 minutes is still freshly woven into everyone's emotions.
The Thunder blew a 15-point lead with five minutes remaining in regulation in Game 4. Dallas outscored Oklahoma City 28-6 in the final 10 minutes and dealt the young Thunder its cruelest blow in playoff basketball.
But with expectations having evaporated, Game 5 is the perfect stage for the Thunder to show what it's learned.
“When you get punched, you have to get up,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “If you don't, you're not going to grow.”
But the Thunder didn't just get punched in Game 4. It got mule-kicked.
Oklahoma City made just 3-of-16 shots while turning the ball over four times in the final 10 minutes as the offensive execution from the first 3 1/2 quarters vanished.
Dallas did such a number defensively on the Thunder that it left the league's reigning back-to-back scoring champ stumped. A day later, Durant still didn't know what hit him.
“To be honest, this is one of the only times I didn't know what to do at the end of the game,” Durant said. “I was catching the ball. I couldn't really see any lanes. There weren't any seams to get through. I felt like I was getting doubled. I just didn't know what to do.”
After making a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 99-84 lead with 5:06 left in regulation, Durant went 0-for-6 from the field with two turnovers in the game's final 10 minutes. Five of Durant's shot attempts were from 3-point range, and the sixth was a 22-footer, tell-all signs of how stiff Dallas' defense was. Fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook wasn't much better. Westbrook went 1-for-6 with two turnovers over that same span. He also missed a pair of free throws that could have given the Thunder a nine-point lead with 2:11 to play in regulation.
Their disappointing performances were a product of the offense taking the foot off the gas and downshifting into dysfunction. Few plays were being run. Floor spacing was poor. And Westbrook and Durant were the only two offensive threats on the court, allowing Dallas to all but ignore the other three players and focus its attention on the Thunder's All-Stars.
“We've got to be better down the stretch,” said Nick Collison when asked what he learned from Game 4. “Sometimes we get in those situations and we play on our heels when we should be more aggressive and be pushing the ball down.”
Collison talked about the Thunder needing to move quicker, initiate offense faster and set and run off screens harder. Rarely did any of that happen down the stretch.
“For whatever reason, we kind of walked through our sets and when we couldn't get the ball in good places to score I think that was a big part of it,” Collison said.
It wasn't long, though, before another sunny-side up statement was made.
“I think we just got to play hard,” said Thabo Sefolosha when asked if the lessons learned Monday can be applied immediately. “We feel like we're not dead yet. We're still alive and we're going to fight to the end.”
Publicly, that attitude permeated throughout Thunder players at Tuesday's practice — no matter how much pain and misery they might have been concealing from the cameras.
“Everybody goes through it,” Brooks said of playoff agony. “There's never been a coach or a player or a team that goes from not being a very good team record-wise to being an NBA champion without going through it.
“We still have a chance to get to our ultimate goal. That is to get to the Finals and to win a championship. Obviously, the odds are against us. But there's odds. And when you have odds, you still have a chance. And Game 5 is going to be an interesting game. I know our guys. They're going to look at it as an opportunity to extend it to come back home for Game 6.”