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Dallas uses D to silent Thunder in pivotal road win

by | CBS Sports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Turns out the world didn't end Saturday. Nobody, at least according to my count, was raptured. Well, except for maybe the Thunder in the first quarter of Game 3.

Because they most definitely did not show up.

The Mavericks outscored Oklahoma City 27-12 in the opening 12 minutes, holding the Thunder to 4-of-17 shooting from the floor while forcing seven turnovers. Save for a lone Kevin Durant jumper, every point the Thunder got in the period came via a putback or the free-throw line.

It was, in a word, ugly.

While there wasn't any great Earth catastrophe on May 21, the Thunder's first quarter pretty much was a complete disaster. In the end, it's what cost them Game 3 at home. Take away the first period and the Thunder won the following three frames 75-66. Not much of a consolation prize, but it's something for Thunder fans to use as a sleeping aid.

It was obvious early the Mavericks had completely turned up their activity and energy on the defensive end. Before the game, Rick Carlisle talked about his team allowing an average of 108.5 points in the first two games of the series. He talked about how that's not at all what his team is about. He talked about how things have got to change on that end if they want to do something great. He wasn't happy with his team's effort on that end because it simply wasn't them. Before the Western Conference finals, Dallas hadn't allowed anyone to score 100 points in the postseason. And in the opening two games, the Thunder had eclipsed that mark easily.

"Tonight, we played championship-level defense for the first time in the series," Carlisle said. "Now the challenge is to sustain."

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It was needed, too. Dirk Nowitzki didn't dominate, going for only 18 points on 7-of-21 shooting. Jason Terry (13 points) didn't have any kind of a spark. Shawn Marion turned back the clock for 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Other than that, it's not like the Mavericks offense did big things. It was, finally, all about the D for Big D.

Durant, who could never really shake off his bad start, summed up the Thunder's first quarter in one word.

"Frustrating," he said. And he said it with a look that made you think "frustrating" wasn't even close to describing it.

It's always tough to figure out the reason for starts like the one OKC endured. In Game 2, the Thunder hit tough contested shot after tough contested shot. They dropped seven 3-pointers and shot almost 56 percent from the field. In Game 3, the law of percentages gave them a good, hard slap in the face. OKC missed all but the last of its 17 3-point attempts. The Thunder shot 36.5 percent from the field and only 19 percent outside of the paint.

Maybe the young Thunder were a bit too amped up for this one. They came out firing away, rushing shots almost like they were in a race to see who could be the one to make the fans take their seats. The arena was rocking like it never has before, and instead of the team feeding off it, they appeared to tense up. The Mavericks defense was, of course, very good, but it's only good defense if the shooter misses. In Game 2, that wasn't the case. In Game 3, OKC couldn't hit anything.

"Don't get me wrong, I missed a lot of chippies," Durant said. "I missed three or four wide-open jump shots, three or four wide-open 3s.

"But yeah, I've got to cut a little bit more without the basketball because they're not leaving me at all. They're doubling if I catch the ball; pick-and-rolls, they're doubling. So I've got to move without the basketball and do a way better job."

Bad starts have almost become commonplace for OKC in the postseason, especially this series. The Mavs jumped out to an early seven-point lead in Game 1 and a 10-point lead in the first quarter in Game 2. Both games, the Thunder fought back but it's an unpleasant hole to be in. And it's not like the team doesn't realize that.

"We've got to figure out ways to have a better start," Durant said. "You know, it happened like the last three games, so we've got to be better."

Said Nick Collison: "We just need to find a way to be more locked in when the game starts. Once the ball's in the air, we can't ease into the game."

Some point to the obvious factor in Scott Brooks' starting five. One of his best scorers starts every game on the bench -- Thabo Sefolosha begins games while James Harden sits. Most every Thunder fan is on the "start Harden" bandwagon, but Brooks said he won't be making any changes now. After the season, possibly, as he said there will be some "long, hard discussions" about it. But not now.

Here's good news for the Thunder heading into a critical Game 4: On the season, including the playoffs, they're a remarkable 26-6 after a loss. In the postseason, the record is 5-0. They've bounced back almost every time they've had to. Needing Game 2, they came right back with a big victory. And now they're going to need Game 4. Better show up at tip-off next time.


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