In one of the most improbable playoff victories in franchise history, the Dallas Mavericks did what few thought they could do Monday night.
After losing Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder by 38 embarrassing points this past Saturday, the Mavericks were all but written off by the naysayers. No way they could recover from that embarrassment and make this a competitive series.
But by using true grit, determination and resolve, the Mavericks upset the Thunder 85-84 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The win squared this best-of-seven series at 1-1 and gives the Mavericks the home-court advantage.
Game 3 is Thursday at 6 at American Airlines Center, and Game 4 is also in Dallas on Saturday at 7 p.m. Game 5 will be back in Oklahoma City on Monday.
After their pitiful showing in Game 1 when they set a franchise playoff record for fewest points scored, the Mavericks held Kevin Durant to seven of 33 shooting and a mere 21 points.
And they limited Russell Westbrook to eight of 22 shooting and 19 points.
In other words, that defensive performance the Thunder body-slammed the Mavericks with in Game 1, Dallas returned the favor in Game 2 when it held Oklahoma City to 33.7 percent shooting.
"Very proud of our guys and the way they responded after one of the most disappointing games in franchise history,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "It’s a group with a lot of pride, obviously a lot of resilience.
"We had some amazing performances.’’
One of those "amazing performances’’ was by point guard Deron Williams, who was doubtful to play in Game 2 because of a sports hernia. Williams, however, tallied 11 first-quarter points and helped set a vicious tone for the Mavericks, who led 24-20 after the first period.
Williams finished with 13 points and five assists in 26 minutes, and left for good with 5:43 remaining in the third period while giving the Mavericks an emotional lift that carried through the balance of the game.
"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.’’
Despite missing a pair of free throws with 7.1 seconds left which could have increased the Mavericks’ lead by three points, Raymond Felton also was impressive. Felton finished with a game-high tying 21 points on eight of 16 shots, and also added 11 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki collected 17 points, and rookie center Salah Mejri came off the bench for 12 points and three blocks.
"Really, it just shows the grit we have as a team,’’ said Felton, who played 42 minutes. "We have a lot of injuries and we have a lot of guys out.
"So my hat goes off to our coaching staff, my hat goes off to my teammates, trainers, just everybody for preparing us mentally and getting us ready to go out there and perform at this level even against the adversity we are going through.’’
Before skipping off the court, the Mavericks had to first survive a review by the referees.
Following those pair of missed free throws by Felton, a shot by Durant was blocked by rookie Justin Anderson, Westbrook rebounded and missed, and then Steven Adams grabbed the rebound and scored at the buzzer.
Or so everyone associated with the Thunder – and Mavericks – thought.
However, a quick review by lead referee Danny Crawford proved that the shot by Adams came after the final horn blew. Thus, Crawford effectively ruled that the shot by Adams was no good.
"We wanted to be the aggressors, we wanted to hit first,’’ said Anderson, who had six points and five rebounds. "We came out scoring the ball, we came out with an edge defensively.
"Our mindset was just different tonight. We were mad (after the Game 1 embarrassment), honestly, we were angry.’’
That anger obviously took shape Monday, as the Mavericks controlled the tempo and help OKC to nine fewer points than they scored after the third quarter of Game 1.
"It’s that chemistry we’ve got, and we trusting in each other,’’ Anderson said. Look at the scoring -- it’s balanced.
"Guys just moving around, making the right pass to one another, trusting and believing in one another. And defensively, iron man (Wesley Matthews) stepped up huge for us, he was big down the stretch keying in on defense.’’
Felton pointed out that the Mavericks got their share of 50/50 balls. And it was those effort plays which carried the night for the Mavericks.
"Most of the time that really determines winning or losing,’’ Felton said. "You have to get those loose balls, you have to get those rebounds that are sometimes tough to get, but you have to find a way and will yourself to that basketball.
"I think we got the majority of those balls tonight and I think it might have been the difference in the game.’’
The Mavericks played without guard J. J. Barea (strained right groin) and center David Lee (partial tear right plantar fascia).
"It just showed we had each other’s back,’’ Anderson said. "If somebody got beat, we had Salah (Mejri) there to protect and somebody in there to get rebounds or blocked shots, so it was huge for us.’’
The Mavericks only have to win their three home games to advance to the second round. They haven’t been out of the first round since winning the championship in 2011.
"Our resolve was there,’’ Carlisle said. "And again, this is a great team, they’ve got unbelievable talent, they’ve got great coaching, and we willed this win out.
"We are a very humble team, we are very resilient and very proud. We are proud that we could win this game and we know that not it’s on.’’