Kevin Durant showed why he's arguably the best player in the NBA, and the Oklahoma City Thunder showed why it's clearly the league's best team.
Dazzling the American Airlines Center crowd with an array of shifty moves, Durant poured in a career-high 52 points Friday as the Thunder snapped the Dallas Mavericks' four-game winning streak 117-114 in overtime.
In reaching the midway point of this roller coaster season, the Mavs are now 17-24 and will only play one game — Sunday at 5 p.m. in Orlando — over the ensuing six days.
In a way, the loss to the Thunder was more of the same for the Mavs during a season that has been like sitting in a three-legged chair. The Mavs fall behind, catch up, manage to negotiate an overtime session, then fail to execute in the game's crucial moments.
Dallas is now a paltry 1-8 in overtime games during this season of frustrations. Now, the Mavs have 41 games left to right themselves and try to crank out another playoff berth.
“As a unit we fought like heck to really give ourselves a chance to win,'' said Vince Carter, who led the Mavs with 29 points. “It's going to be bumps in the road and we're going to lose a lot of games just from lack of experience [playing] together.
“The thing that I like is that we're giving ourselves a chance to win against good teams, and we're getting ourselves in overtime games. Now we just have to learn how to close it out. That's just the next step for us.''
The next step should also include finding a way to prevent players of Durant's ilk from totaling dominating the game.
“I think everybody can say that we almost had this game and we didn't make any silly mistakes down the stretch,'' said Mavericks point guard Darren Collison, who had 15 points and six assists. “KD beat us, we missed some open shots, but it wasn't like the mistakes that we made in the past.
“So we're continuing to grow right now, and that's a good thing. We've just got to look forward to Orlando's game and get that one and start a new streak.''
O.J. Mayo sent the game into overtime tied at 105-105 when he nailed a wild 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in regulation. Durant missed a mid-range jumper at the buzzer, and then scored nine of the Thunder's 12 overtime points during one of his brightest moments ever.
“I was upset with myself in the fourth quarter,'' said Durant, who was only 13-of-31 from the field overall, but 21-of-21 from the free throw line. “I missed so many shots and I wasn't taking it to the rim.
“I wasn't putting pressure on the defense, so I was just trying to make up for it in overtime. So I just kept fighting and kept believing in myself.''
That belief by Durant turned into disaster for the Mavs, who also lost an overtime game to the Thunder in Oklahoma City, 111-105, back on Dec. 27.
“He had a great game and he is the best shooter on the planet,'' coach Rick Carlisle said of Durant. “There are some things that we obviously could have done to limit him.''
Other than Westbrook, the Thunder got 31 points from Russell Westbrook, and 11 points and 14 rebounds form Serge Ibaka.
Meanwhile, the Mavs placed six players in double-figure scoring for the fourth consecutive games. Besides Carter and Collison, Dirk Nowitzki and Mayo each tallied 18 points, Elton Brand finished with 10 points and 13 boards, and Mike James had 10 points.
It was yet another gut-wrenching loss for the Mavs, who watched as Durant scored more points than anyone has scored in the NBA this season. The 52 points also was one more than the 51 points Durant tallied last year against Denver.
“Honestly he had 52, but I thought we guarded him about as well as you can guard somebody having 52,'' said Nowitzki, who was only 5-of-19 from the field in 41 minutes. “He missed a bunch of shots.
“He got hot there late. I thought we didn't do a good job, obviously, of keeping him off the free throw line and you can't give a good player 21 free throws.''
Westbrook got the Thunder out of the gate fast by knocking down 5 of 9 shots and scoring 10 points as OKC led 30-22 after the first period. The Thunder, which compiled a 53-46 lead at the half, widened the gap to 72-58 midway through the third quarter following a pair of buckets from Westbrook.
But the Mavs came storming back, little by little, until they finally assumed an 89-88 lead with 8:25 left in the game via two free throws by Nowitzki. From there the game was nip-and-tuck until Durant decided he wasn't going to be denied.
“Kevin missed a lot of shots in the fourth quarter, but still managed 52,'' OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “Are you surprised?
“We won the game by shooting 41 percent because we got key stops when we needed it. Sometimes when you shot doesn't fall, you've got to find a way to attack the basket and will yourself to get opportunities.''
That's precisely what the Thunder did. And that may be one reason they own the NBA's best record at 32-8.
Meanwhile, the Mavs probably went to bed having nightmares about another overtime game that got away from them.
“Every loss is double, so we have to take advantage of games like this when we have them on their heels,'' James said. “It's just about making plays at the end of the game.''
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760