Anyone paying attention to the first-round NBA playoff series between the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder are probably thunderstruck at how things have escalated to an ugly level.
Particularly after the chain of events that during the Thunder’s 119-108 victory in Game 4 on Saturday night in Dallas, putting the Thunder up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
And the NBA may be on notice that what almost happened Saturday night — a fracas between the teams at the Thunder bench — may indeed happen when Game 5 of this heated playoff series tips off at 7 p.m. Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“The officials will handle it,” coach Rick Carlisle said, when asked about his concerns. “You’ve got to trust that the NBA is going to have a strong [refereeing] crew there and that they’re going to handle it.
“Hey, it’s aggressive. You get deeper into a playoff series, things are more familiar. It’s all part of it.”
The NBA stepped in Sunday and punished two players for incidents Saturday.
Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant was fined $15,000 for hitting Mavs rookie forward Justin Anderson around the head while trying to block Anderson’s shot with 50.6 seconds left.
And OKC All-Star guard Russell Westbrook was fined $25,000 for using abusive language directed at Mavs’ fans.
Some Mavs’ eyebrows were also raised when OKC had most of its starters still on the floor when the Thunder was ahead 115-104 with less than a minute remaining.
Westbrook played the final 9:42 of the game, starting forward Serge Ibaka left for good with only 20.8 seconds to play, starting shooting guard Andre Roberson subbed back into the game with 36.9 seconds left, and Durant was still on the floor until his mandatory ejection on a Flagrant 2 foul.
“It shows me that they know how dangerous we are,” Carlisle said. “What they do with their substitutions is up to them.
“I concern myself with our group and doing everything possible to keep our guys in a position to win, and that’s my job.”
Carlisle’s job also is to find a way to force Game 6 in Dallas on Thursday. Only nine NBA teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit and win a best-of-seven series.
If the Mavs become the magical 10th team, they’ll do it without point guard Deron Williams. The 11-year veteran aggravated his strained left abdominal muscle less than a minute into Game 4 and didn’t make the trip to Oklahoma City.
“He’s done for the year,” Carlisle said. “He had a very strong year.
“He played great basketball for us. The only thing that derailed him was some health issues.”
Carlisle listed center Salah Mejri as questionable for Game 5 after he suffered a right hip flexor that limited him to 18 minutes in Game 4. Center JaVale McGee, who was sent home before Game 4 with a fever, was feeling better Sunday.
Also, Carlisle said center David Lee (right heel) is sore, and guard J.J. Barea is struggling with a strained right groin. Barea didn’t score and missed all seven of his shots during 27 minutes of playing time Saturday.
“I think that’s pretty obvious that he’s not able to do what he normally does,” Carlisle said of Barea. “I know that’s very frustrating or him, but the fact that he is battling it out and not making it worse, at least to this point, is a positive thing.”
Carlisle also thought it was a positive that Nowitzki played 40 grueling minutes, but admittedly is concerned that Nowitzki re-entered the game with 38.9 seconds left in the third period and didn’t leave again until there were only 1:12 remaining in the game.
“If you played 37 minutes with people hanging all over you for four consecutive games, you wouldn’t even be here,” Carlisle said. “But if you’re him, you would be tired.
“So, hey, there’s nothing wrong with fatigue. That means you’re playing to exhaustion, and you’re fully engaged in the fight. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”