With his team stripped of a lot of its key players due to injuries, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle knew his team would have a difficult time defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.
But as it turned out, the Mavericks put up a much bigger fight than anyone outside of their locker room anticipated,
The Mavericks were within 101-98 of the Thunder with 7 minutes left, and had two chances to tie it and make things really interesting. But after Dirk Nowitzki and J. J. Barea misfired on 3-pointers, the Thunder fashionably ended the game on a brisk 17-6 run and won 118-104 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"We’re disappointed at the results, obviously,’’ Carlisle said. "I thought the effort from our team from start to finish in this series was second to none, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way our guys competed.
"I think, really metaphorically, we emptied our chamber, you know, in five games. I don’t know what we would have thrown at them in Game 6.’’
They won’t be able to find that out.
The Thunder shot 50.6 percent from the field, outscored the Mavericks 18-0 in fast-break points, and won the rebounding battle 42-35.
"They just were simply better,’’ Carlisle said. "We couldn’t solve the rebounding.
"Their two superstars were great in this series.’’
The Mavericks finished the regular season 42-40 and were bounced out of the first round of the playoffs in five games by the Thunder.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook -- the player owner Mark Cuban said before the game wasn’t a superstar -- did some really superstar stuff by scoring six clutch points and putting OKC ahead 107-98 with 5:13 left.
Meanwhile, Carlisle talked about how backup center Salah Mejri, who was enjoying a solid playoff series before injuring his hip flexor in Game 4 on Saturday, desperately wanted to play in Game 5.
"Before the game our training staff determined that Mejri couldn’t play, you know, that he really wasn’t going to be able to run,’’ Carlisle said. "So we ruled him out, and then he came to me saying that he wanted to play, so then we basically said no.
"He was just going to go out there and try it and be done, so that’s the kind of spirit we have in our club. So Mavs’ Nation is going to be externally proud of this team.’’
Rookie Justin Anderson scored 14 points, and second-year pro Dwight Powell added 16 points and nine rebounds. Powell becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
"Obviously we gave it everything we had, and unfortunately we came up a little short,’’ said Powell, who played 28 minutes and was six of seven from the field. "I’m proud of this team, I’m proud of our coaches and the ownership.
"To be a part of this team is something special – it means something. Obviously this isn’t the result we wanted, but we fought to the end.’’
That fight was very evident throughout this playoff series with the Thunder. The Mavericks just didn’t have enough of their key players in uniform to make this a fair fight.
"Getting in (the playoffs) would have seemed like a long shot with nine games to go,’’ Carlisle said. "But they found a way and I love the way we competed.
"I wish we would have had our full contingent of guys.’’