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Thunder and Mavs push the limits of clean basketball as Oklahoma City takes 2-0 lead

By Royce Young | NBA writer


OKLAHOMA CITY -- Rick Carlisle wasn't mincing words after the Mavericks' 102-99 Game 2 loss to the Thunder.

"The dirty bulls--t has got to stop," he said.

Really no big secret as to what Carlisle was talking about. The Thunder and Mavs -- two teams that have grown intimately close with each other -- battled, scuffled, pushed, shoved and talked through a fearsome Game 2 in Oklahoma City.

It started with what appeared to be an inadvertent smack by Serge Ibaka on Dirk Nowitzki, to which Dirk responded with a little open court shove. Then Kendrick Perkins flattened Shawn Marion twice with two hard screens. Then Perkins, as he's known to do, rammed into Dirk on the block battling for a rebound. Dirk push. Perkins pushed. Words were said.

"He tried to bully me and I bullied back," Dirk said. "We talked about some stuff and moved on."

It seems like a natural rivalry might be on its way to being born between Dallas and OKC, two cities separated by just about three hours. The two teams are building quite the history with each other and there's very clearly no love lost between them.

"It happens. [It's the] playoffs," Perkins said. "Just grown men out here playing basketball and teams trying to advance. You just out here playing. Nothing to hurt or nothing like that. Neither side going to bow down. They not, we not. So we just out here playing and competing at a high level."

The Thunder have ramped up the physicality without remorse on the Mavs in this series, adding a new element of toughness that maybe wasn't there before in last season's five-game exit in the Western Finals. It's been the Thunder that have made the critical crunch time plays, not the Mavs, a team that lived off of those things last season. For example, Dirk had a wide open 3 to dagger OKC and missed it. He had a baseline jumper that bounced three times on the rim and unlike Durant's shot from Game 1, didn't fall.

“We're really just a couple of bounces away from being up 2-0,” Dirk said. “That 3 ball I had in the corner, that's gametime.”

It's the cold hard truth. The Mavs aren't far off -- really just a couple possesions -- from being up 2-0 going back to Dallas. But at the same time, that's the exact same line the Thunder were left using after last season's loss to Dallas. A shot here, a bounce there, a break somewhere and things would've been different. Instead, it's the Thunder that are making their own luck and cashing in when they need to.

Consider this: The Thunder are up 2-0 despite Kevin Durant going a combined 15-44 from the field in the two games. That's 34 percent from the floor from their scoring savant. And yet, OKC has found its way out by a grand total of four points.

“I missed some shots that of course I would love to make, but I have faith in myself and faith in my hard work and I am always going to stay positive," Durant said. "I will continue to work hard like I always do and hopefully I knock some down.”

Punching bag point guard Russell Westbrook has carried a lot of the load. He scored 29 and lifted the Thunder offensively when the well appeared to have dried up. His mid-range game was working, he only turned it over twice and he brought quite the effort defensively on Jason Terry.

“He's been the guy that's been killing us,” Dirk said.

The other thing that killed the Mavs? The free throw line. Not on their end. They made 28-of-32 from the stripe. But the Thunder converted 37-of-39, with the only two misses coming via Durant. Carlisle attempted to direct some attention to the way the Thunder defended Dirk in Game 1 and while the whistles were flying in Game 2, it didn't necessarily favor the Mavs. For example, an iffy call went against Terry late in the game that gave Durant two free throws that put the Thunder up a point with 50 seconds.

"It would be up for debate, I guess," Carlisle said about the call. "I only saw one angle of it. It was a tough play, a tough play. He's trying to make a play on the ball and Durant sold it. He did a good job of selling it. That's a tough play. A tough play. That's all I can say."

Carlisle bit his tongue there but hasn't been shy about the way things have gone, especially in terms of OKC's physicality.

“We don't like the cheap shots when they give them and they don't like the cheap shots if we give them," Carlisle said. "That's the nature of competition. I love hard play, clean, competitive playoff series. You throw the ball up and may the best team win."

So far, that's been the Thunder. Not by much though. Thing is, margin doesn't matter in the postseason. It's about the result and right now, the Thunder are the ones getting them.
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