The Dallas Mavericks close out the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals thanks to some fourth quarter heroics. Posted by Ben Golliver.
Watching the Dallas Mavericks -- who polished off the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 on Wednesday night to advance to the NBA Finals -- cruise through the 2011 playoffs, you would expect their fourth quarter scoring numbers to be out of this world good.
The Mavericks are now 12-3 in the postseason, after outlasting the Portland Trail Blazers, sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers and out-executing the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavericks have done it with clutch plays on both ends, knocking down dagger three-pointers, forcing critical turnovers and getting to the free throw line with regularity.
Despite all that, the Mavericks have actually only won the fourth quarter scoring differential (including an overtime game against the Thunder) by an average of less than two points per game: 26.4 to 24.5. Their average scoring differential during the playoffs has been +7.9. The first glance at the numbers would suggest Dallas played only as well in the fourth quarter as it did in other quarters.
Sure, Portland's monstrous Game 4 fourth-quarter comeback is a major outlier here. Thanks to Brandon Roy's heroics, the fourth quarter differential numbers are skewed a bit. But even if you take that game out of the equation, Dallas wins the fourth quarter scoring by 3.5 points per game: 27.2 to 23.7. Almost all of that difference can be accounted for by the lopsided numbers in the Lakers series. Get this: The Blazers actually outscored the Mavericks in the fourth quarter over their six game series and the Thunder were outscored in the fourth quarter (and overtime) by just four points total in their five game series.
The numbers seem to suggest that Dallas wasn't any more extraordinary late in games than they were at other points. And yet the numbers feel so wrong. Time and again through this playoff run, the Mavericks have come up biggest at the most opportune times, often late in the fourth quarter, by owning the late-game play and launching comebacks of their own when necessary. It's somewhat expected from a veteran, focused group but still amazing how steady that late-game success has been.
The turning point of the Blazers series was the end of Game 2, when Dirk Nowitzki closed the game with 11 straight points, on an array of baskets and free throws that served as the announcement of his postseason dominance.
The Lakers series tipped in Game 1, when the Mavericks launched a massive comeback from a double-digit deficit, outscoring the Lakers 9-2 in the final 3:31 to steal the first game and set the tone for the series.
The Thunder series, of course, would never be the same after the Mavericks dug themselves all the way out of a 15 point hole on the road in Game 4 to force overtime, where they didn't hesitate to slam the door.
The Mavericks were similarly ruthless on Wednesday, peeling off a 14-4 run in the final 4:18 to send the Thunder into their summer. As was the case against the Blazers and Lakers, it was a combination of timely offense, a bit of luck, some timely rebounds and steady defense that made the difference. The Thunder didn't roll over.
"This is as hard a game I've ever been involved with," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
In the closing minutes, Dallas turned to Nowitzki, who got to the line, and to an unlikely candidate in Shawn Marion. Marion had seven points in the game's final four minutes, including a huge run-out dunk that he finished emphatically while being fouled from behind by Kevin Durant. Marion ran out off of a broken play caused by a Nick Collison turnover to get that dunk. His steal was one of three the Mavericks came up with in the final 1:15 of the game, as a frenetic Russell Westbrook made two critical turnovers. Marion also secured a loose ball late that he threw ahead to Jason Terry, who threw down a buzzer-beating dunk that set the American Airlines Center into a celebratory tizzy.
Those plays summarized this playoff run: excellent energy, perfect focus, right place, right time, back-breaking results.
"We went back big, the finishing group that has been our closing team for most of the years," Carlisle said. "Those guys delivered stops and were resourceful finding ways to get the ball in the basket."
"Resourceful" might be the perfect word, as the Mavericks' spectacular comebacks over the last month were obviously the result of some inconsistent play earlier in the game. And that's the huge elephant in the room here heading into the Finals: The Mavericks will likely face the Miami Heat, who have been closing games with ferocity throughout their playoff run as well. The Heat boast two scorers in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade who can create their own shots and are adept at getting to the free throw line late. James and Wade also aren't liable to wilt under pressure like the mismatched Blazers, lost Lakers and young Thunder each did.
It's much easier to be resourceful when you're hungrier and better balanced team than your opponent. But will the Mavericks be able to enjoy a similar level of execution against the Heat? That could be the question that decides this year's NBA Finals.