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Thunder Blow their Opportunity

24 May

The Thunder choked last night, but it might be the best thing for a team with a very bright future. Steve.

By J. Michael Falgoust, USA TODAY


OKLAHOMA CITY — The backpack never appeared to be so fitting on Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, noted for wearing the accessory at postgame news conference.

  • Kevin Durant carried the Thunder to a 15-point lead Monday, but he melted in the fourth quarter and overtime, missing nine of 11 shots.By Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

    Kevin Durant carried the Thunder to a 15-point lead Monday, but he melted in the fourth quarter and overtime, missing nine of 11 shots.

By Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

Kevin Durant carried the Thunder to a 15-point lead Monday, but he melted in the fourth quarter and overtime, missing nine of 11 shots.

The two-time NBA scoring champion, who led USA Basketball to a gold medal in last summer’s world championships, has been taken to school in the Western Conference finals.

After collapsing in the final five minutes of Game 4 while leading the Dallas Mavericks by 15 points, the Thunder trail the series 3-1 entering Game 5 today (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Durant said Tuesday.

Coach Scott Brooks sees the experience in broader terms.

The Thunder are among the NBA’s youngest teams. They had never advanced past the first round until this season, when they eliminated the Denver Nuggets in five games and the Memphis Grizzlies in seven.

Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, both All-Stars, are just 22. Westbrook also played for Team USA, when Durant was the MVP of the FIBA World Championships.

Playoff meter

 

In the last five minutes of regulation Monday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals:

***The Mavericks outscored the Thunder 17-2.

***The Thunder shot 1-for-9 from the field; the Mavericks shot 4-for-5.

***The Thunder got five rebounds; the Mavericks got eight.

***The Thunder shot 0-for-2 from the foul line; the Mavericks shot 6-for-8.

***The Thunder had five fouls; the Mavericks had one.

 

The Mavericks, however, are playing on an even higher championship level. They’re loaded with experience and firepower in Dirk NowitzkiJason KiddShawn Marionand Jason Terry.

They were one of the league’s most underrated defensive teams, with center Tyson Chandler as their anchor.

“When you get punched, you have to get up,” Brooks said. “You have no other choice. If you don’t, you’re not going to grow, you’re not going to get better as a player.”

Durant is still dusting himself off. He’s averaging 29.3 points, but his 43.5% field goal shooting against the Mavericks is his worst of his three playoff series. He’s also shooting just 16% from three-point range.

“It’s a bad feeling, but we’ve got faith,” Durant said. “I’m just going to lay it all on the line.”

The Thunder had stolen home-court advantage by winning Game 2 on the road and going back to Oklahoma City 1-1. But they lost both home games. It was the first time since April 2 they lost back-to-back games.

But it was how they fell apart in Game 4 that was so striking.

Durant shot 7-for-11 in the first three quarters. He finished 9-for-22 and had a career-high nine turnovers.

“I let the fans down. I let the city down,” he said after the game.

Then Nowitzki erupted for 12 of his game-high 40 points, and Dallas closed on a 17-2 run to force overtime and win 112-105. Durant only could hang his head on the bench as time expired.

“I’ve obviously had my fair share of leads and lost them. It’s all part of the game,” Nowitzki said. “It happens to the best teams in the league.”

Only eight teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit, and only two did it by winning twice on the road.

“The odds are against us, but they’re odds,” Brooks said. “When you have odds, you still have a chance.”

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