DALLAS (AP) — Take a sweep of the Lakers, a nine-day layoff and a dominant outing by Dirk Nowitzki in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and it’s understandable why the Dallas Mavericks may have started thinking too highly of themselves.
Losing Game 2 at home to a team that played four subs nearly the entire fourth quarter should be a strong dose of humility.
"I’m not going to say a loss is ever good, because I don’t ever like to lose. It doesn’t do well for my sleep pattern," Dallas center Tyson Chandler said Friday. "But sometimes you need to get hit on the chin and get woke up. Last night, they hit us on the chin. Hopefully, that woke us up."
Oklahoma City withstood an early scoring barrage, wiped out an 11-point deficit by halftime then controlled things down the stretch. Instead of being awed by the big stage, the Thunder’s youth, athleticism and perhaps a bit of naivety served them well.
Considering Oklahoma City pulled out Game 2 with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook spending the last quarter on the bench, it would seem like they have plenty to build on as the series moves to their court for Game 3 on Saturday night.
Provided, that is, that Westbrook is OK with having had to watch.
Although he was agitated immediately after being pulled late in the third quarter, he said all the right things after the game, and continued to try to douse any controversy on Friday.
"My main focus is we got this far because the team is doing well, not if I’m doing good or bad," Westbrook said.
Asked specifically about coach Scott Brooks opting to stick with backup Eric Maynor, Westbrook said: "He’s the head coach and he makes the decisions on the floor, and he made the best one yesterday."
Westbrook made 7 of 15 shots in Game 2, up from 3 of 15 in Game 1. And that was in only three quarters. He said Friday he "thought I could’ve done a better job when I was in there."
Brooks remained highly complimentary of his starter, calling him "a tremendous player for us."
"He has improved as much as anybody in this game," Brooks said.
Yet that tremendous, improving player was on the bench in crunch time of the biggest game since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City, left to watch Kevin Durant, Maynor and reserves James Harden, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook.
"The group was playing good basketball," Brooks said. "I felt last night in my heart, in my gut, that that team was deserving to finish up the game."
Harden is usually among the Thunder’s closers, and he showed why in Game 2. He scored 10 of his 23 points in the final quarter. Durant scored 24, down from 40 in the opener, but was still extremely effective.
Oklahoma City has had its way with a Dallas defense that kept the Lakers and Trail Blazers consistently scoring in the 80s, with a high of 97 points.
The Thunder scored 112 in the opener. Taking fewer free throws, they scored "only" 106 in Game 2, but made 55.7 percent of their shots, matching the second-best anyone’s done against the Mavericks all season.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said Oklahoma City also has been more opportunistic over the two games, getting to 23 loose balls and turning them into 32 points. The Mavs have snagged only 17 and turned them into only 13 points. Part of it is that the Thunder are younger and more athletic, but part of it is effort and intensity.
"We won Game 1 here not playing great defense and we felt like we could just come out and outscore them and beat them" Chandler said. "Regardless of whether we can or not, that’s not the kind of habits we need to create."
So, how do they snap out of it?
"By being smarter than them," he said. "We’re a veteran team. We just have to have a better understanding of what we have to do and accomplish to win a basketball game. ... I just think that we haven’t executed our game plan. We’ve got to trust that the coaches know what they’re doing when they’re breaking down the film. That’s what they get paid for, and we get paid to execute it. Now it’s our time to get out and execute it."
Older and less athletic, the Mavericks have to rely on their savvy. It worked in Game 1 and in two of the three regular-season meetings — in fact, both games that were played in Oklahoma City.
Dallas also is riding a three-game road winning streak, having closed out its first-round series in Portland, then taking Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles. So Carlisle isn’t concerned about the change of setting. It’s a change in attitude he wants.
"I think disposition is important, efficient is important and understanding how we’ve got to play together to be successful is very important," he said. "I feel like we have got to play with a greater edge, for sure.
"I don’t think we’ve lost it, but I think we’ve got to play with more of an edge."