That realistic chance the Dallas Mavericks had of climbing back into this first-round playoff series with Oklahoma City is officially over.
The Thunder made sure of that with Thursday's relatively easy and very surprising 95-79 victory over the Mavs at American Airlines Center.
Oklahoma City now leads this best-of-seven series 3-0 and can close it out back here on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
No team has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit in NBA history to win a best-of-seven series. That's the mountainous challenge the Mavs face today.
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“I don't think we took a step forward as a team,'' said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 17 points. “We took a step back.''
The Mavs were several steps slower than the much quicker Thunder all night Thursday. OKC never trailed, the game was never tied, and the Thunder's lead was never in any serious jeopardy.
It was as if the Thunder came into the AAC, pulled up a couple of chairs, grabbed the remote control and made themselves right at home. Indeed, they acted like they owned the place.
“It's really tough to go down 0-3, but we're going to keep fighting,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. “I thought even though we played bad, we competed well.
“That's hard to say when [the deficit is] in the 20's. Until I look at the film and see otherwise, I like the way we're battling.''
The biggest showing for the Mavs was when they outscored the Thunder 10-0 - to end the game. But that came after OKC mounted a 95-69 lead with 4:52 left and sent many in the crowd of 20,640 scampering for the exits.
“We just weren't making shots,'' said Vince Carter, who scored only seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. “They did a great job of limiting us to one shot and they were getting out in transition and hitting shots.
“They really put it to us in the second half.''
OKC led 50-41 at intermission, and a Jason Kidd basket got Dallas within 50-45 early in the third period. But that was as close as the Mavs got in the duration of the game.
The Thunder blasted through on a 16-5 run to go up 66-50. And they later sprinted free on an 18-3 rally to forge ahead 86-60 with 10:10 remaining in the game.
Afterwards, guard Jason Terry was ready to lace 'em back up and get back on the court with the Thunder.
“I wish I could play right now tonight and see if they're ready for it, because they're probably full of themselves right now,'' Terry said. “And rightfully so.
“They're playing well, so give them credit.''
Kevin Durant poured in 21 of his game-high 31 points in the first half. He also converted 11-of-15 shots -- 4-of-6 from three-point range -- as he overcame the poor 14-of-44 shooting he turned in during the first two games of the series.
“He works as hard as anybody I've ever been around,'' Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. “And you knew he was going to have a good shooting game sooner or later.
“He's diligent in his work, he's so consistent. He brings in effort and he does the same things, but it was good to see him have a good shooting game.''
At the 2:16 mark of the first period, Durant had outscored the Mavs by himself, 15-13. At that juncture, the rest of the Thunder players had 13 points as OKC held a comfortable 28-13 lead.
It was mostly downhill from there for the Mavs, who did mange to get within 32-28 early in the second period. But even that momentum didn't last long as the Thunder bolted on a 16-5 run to manufacture a 48-33 lead.
“They're a good team and they threw a great game at us,'' Carlisle said. “We needed to be a lot better than we were.
“We've just had some bad shooting nights and some horrible decision-making. Frankly, a lot of the responsibility is on me - I didn't have these guys ready to play.''
Terry, who scored 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting, said the Mavs failed to apply enough pressure to the Thunder to make them antsy.
Terry said: “Let's put them on their heels instead of us being down 17-6 or whatever it was and always having to fight from behind.''
In a game they really needed to get in this series, the Mavs shot just 34.2 percent from the floor, were outrebounded 46-45 and turned the ball over 16 times. In short, it was a flawed performance by the defending NBA champions.“They've got good defenders, good shot makers and they're a very good team,'' Nowitzki said. “You have to give them credit.
“Every time we made a little push, they made shots.''
And every time the Thunder made shots, the Mavs probably thought about narrowly losing Game 1 by one point and dropping Game 2 by three points.
“We had enough chances in Game 1 and Game 2, we played solid quarters,'' Nowitzki said. “I don't think we put it together for a full 48 [minutes] yet.
“But we had more than enough chances to steal Game 1, more than enough chances to steal Game 2. And just like I said, today was a very bad outing and a very bad time for a bad outing.''
The Mavs now must win Saturday at home just to avoid being swept out of this series. In short, their task is so monumental that they can't even wrap their brains around possibly winning this series.
“We've got to win 'a' game,'' Nowitzki said. “If you're down 0-3 you never focus on winning four games.
“We've got to show some pride on Saturday.''
More pride than they showed Thursday night.
“It's just a tough game,'' Carlisle said. “We're going to look at the things we've got to do better and we're going to be back out there Saturday night battling.''
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760