HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — Don’t let the designer Poindexter glasses fool you. Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook see just fine.
They can see through the playoff matrix already, just three trips into the postseason in their young careers.
Clearly, the Thunder do not plan on waiting their turn. They also won’t be deferring to their elders, as their 95-79 Game 3 destruction of the defending champion Mavericks Thursday night at American Airlines Center serves as proof.
Durant’s shooting touch came back — he had 15 points 12 minutes in — was 8-for-10 and had 21 points by halftime and finished with a game-high 31 points. Westbrook did as he pleased and the Mavericks still do not have anyone on the roster capable of shutting him down. And the Thunder, from Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison up front to James Harden, Derek Fisher and Thabo Sefolosha in the backcourt, are proving that they are the deeper, stronger, more resilient and a just plain better team.
“We wanted to focus on being solid, keeping it simple, hit singles and not home runs and I thought we did that,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s important, because sometimes we get a little excited. And that’s good, because they are very excitable. But when we talk about playing our basketball and improving everyday, we have to think simple. Sometimes it’s challenging to coach simple with our guys but it’s important to focus on that.”
A 3-0 hole in a playoff series is the ticket for any team to get off the postseason ride, even the defending champs. The Mavericks know this better than anyone, having handed the same ticket to the Lakers last year in the Western Conference semifinals.
Now here they are, 48 minutes away from the same fate.
“We’ve got to fight,” Mavericks swingman Shawn Marion said. “We’ve got to go out swinging. That’s what it’s about. It’s about going out there and seeing what’s inside of you. Gotta dig deep inside of us and go out there and get it. We’ve got to all look at each other in the eyes and in the face and go out there and challenge each other.”
All that’s left for the Mavericks is to show they have the resolve of a champion who will cede their position to the Thunder or some other Western Conference team (like the Spurs or Lakers) capable of handling the rigors of the postseason road Dallas owned last season. If they don’t want to become the first defending champ to be dismissed in the first round since the Miami Heat in 2007, they have to come up with a better showing Saturday night in Game 4.
After two close games to start this series, plenty of folks believed the Mavericks might have had another run in them. But that feeling was washed away by that early-and-sustained blitz from the Thunder. They simply overwhelmed the Mavericks, with Durant leading the way. The three-time scoring champ bounced back from his shooting struggles in the first two games (15-for-44) and owned Game 3.
“Look, he’s a great player,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s the best scorer on the planet. And Marion did a phenomenal job for two games, and tonight Durant picked his level up a little bit and he was making some of those contested shots. What was he, 11-of-15? I mean that’s a phenomenal shooting night in a game that their spreading the ball around quite a bit.”
If not for that late 10-0 run by the Mavericks’ reserves, the Thunder would have won by 26 instead of 16.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to them,” Mavericks guard Jason Terry said. “They came out and played a hell of a game tonight, kicked our ass in every facet of the game.”