To a man, the Dallas Mavericks kept repeating over and over that their 38-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of this best-of-seven series was nothing more than a fluke.
Monday night at Cheaspeake Energy Arena, the Mavs showed everyone exactly what they were talking about.
Battered and bruised and at a distinct talent disadvantage, the Mavs got all the stars aligned just right and promptly pulled out a gut-wrenching 85-84 upset victory over the Thunder before a sellout crowd of 18,203.
The improbable victory evened this series at 1-1, with Games 3 and 4 slated for Thursday and Saturday, respectively, at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
But before the Mavs could celebrate stealing home-court advantage, they first had to wait out a nervous review by the referees.
After Raymond Felton misfired on two free throw attempts with 7.1 seconds left, which could have extended the Mavs’ lead, the Thunder raced downcourt and got three cracks at the basket. On the third attempt, Steven Adams’ offensive put-back basket gave the Thunder an 86-85 lead as time expired.
Or so they thought.
After referee Danny Crawford went to the scorer’s table and saw the review, he quickly waved Adams’ basket off, and the Mavs jumped for joy, knowing that they can reach the second round of the playoffs if they just win their three home games in this series.
“They did a great job going over and reviewing fast, but it felt like forever,” rookie Justin Anderson said. “My stomach dropped and I was just waiting and waiting, and the police were like, ‘You got to stop back.’
“To see [the refs wave off Adams’ basket], it was awesome.”
What also was awesome, the Mavs said, was to see point guard Deron Williams fight off a painful sports hernia and contribute 13 points in 26 minutes, including 11 in the first quarter, which concluded with Dallas ahead 24-20.
“None of this would be possible without Deron Williams,” Carlisle said. “His effort in the Utah game a week ago tonight — he played a huge game that night and it was his second game back in an over-two-week hiatus, and that game got us in the playoffs.
“Tonight, had he not played the first 26 minutes, we wouldn’t have been in a position to win. He was hot early, he got us going, he kept the confidence level of the club up, and I’m really impressed with his willingness to give it a shot tonight because he’s not well — he’s hurting.”
Carlisle also praised the effort of Wesley Matthews, whose physical play helped limit Kevin Durant to 21 points on 7 of 33 shots. Matthews also struggled with his shot, but hit three late buckets, including a steal and a fast-break layup that put the Mavs up by four with 14.4 seconds remaining.
“The irony was Wes missed some shots earlier in the game that were pretty good shots for him, and then late threw in a couple of really difficult ones in the fourth,” Carlisle said. “And that’s just a guy that just hangs in there and finds a way to get the ball in the basket.
“That little turnaround he hit from the free throw line was a huge shot when we were down, and then the steal and layup in the last minute was obviously a major play. He doesn’t get discouraged, he stays with it and he just keeps banging away and that’s why you love him.”
Felton led the Mavs with 21 points, Dirk Nowitzki scored 17, and rookie Salah Mejri, who started in Game 1, came off the bench to collect 12 points and three blocks.
“Justin gave us really solid minutes again,” Carlisle said. “He’s got a great sense of timing and certain flair for the dramatic.
“Mejri did a tremendous job. It was a mistake starting him in Game 1. He had done very well against these guys, but it was unfair to put him in that potion — that was my fault.”
The Mavs shot 42.7 percent form the field after looking overwhelmed with their task while losing Game 1, 108-70.
“We all looked in the mirror and asked what we could do better and what we could do more,” Carlisle said. “I think we all felt that the effort wasn’t what it needed to be.
“Game 1 of a playoff series you’re going to get hit with a haymaker at the beginning, and they’re a great first-quarter team, but we just couldn’t recover from that haymaker in Game 1. Game 2 we did a much better job.”