You can understand why Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle flipped his wig like Mould in '85 after this highly questionable Kendrick Perkins tip-in of an errant James Harden runner — captured and discussed by our friends at the Yahoo! Sports Minute — gave the Oklahoma City Thunder a 20-11 lead with just over four minutes left in the opening quarter of Thursday night's pivotal Game 3 in the teams' first-round playoff series.
The Thunder had come out hot, opening a 9-2 lead behind a pair of Kevin Durant 3-pointers in the early going, and Dallas had just started to work its way back into a game that it simply had to win. If the officials correctly call Perkins for basket interference after making contact with the ball while it was still above the cylinder of the rim after Harden's miss, it's Dallas ball with a chance to further chop down Oklahoma City's seven-point lead and get the ship righted after weathering the early storm. If they don't, the lead goes to nine and whatever momentum the Mavs had built by forcing five straight Thunder misses and a turnover in the preceding minute goes by the wayside.
The latter came to pass, which led the normally even-keeled Carlisle to blow his stack ... which only compounded the problem, since the technical foul he was awarded gave the Thunder a free throw, pushing the lead to 10 points. (Seems like we're never finished talking about composure this postseason.)
Carlisle's fit had been coming for two games, not only because of the "dirty [rhymes with 'full split']" the Dallas coach has accused the Thunder bigs (especially Perkins) of perpetrating, but also because Dallas headed into Thursday night down 0-2 after losing the series' first two contests by a combined four points. In a series like this, a basket here and call there can make a huge difference, Carlisle seemed to be arguing with his explosion.
And he's right, but he's only right for Dallas, because these sorts of things — first-quarter injustices, foul differentials, whether a tangle-up should have resulted in no whistle or a T on the other guy, etc. — are what you worry about and obsess over when you have the worse team and you know everything needs to go your way to win. That's what likely has Carlisle really frustrated: the realization that his team's got no shot here.
Oklahoma City never trailed in the back end of TNT's Thursday night doubleheader, opening up with that 9-2 run and closing the first up 32-26 thanks to Durant breaking free for 15 first-quarter points. They kept Dallas at arm's length throughout the second to head into half up nine, and continued to press the advantage throughout the second half to turn the affair into a 95-79 blowout.
Even when the Mavs trailed by just four points early in the second quarter, it didn't really feel like Dallas was a real threat to win — not with Durant shooting the way he was (he finished 11 of 15 after a rusty start to the series), and not with Nowitzki (6 of 15 with just one 3-point attempt, a miss) and every other Maverick (a combined 20 of 61) shooting the way they were. As soon as it was evident that Nowitzki wasn't about to unleash the kind of dominant performance he routinely posted throughout last year's championship run — the kind of performance that was relatively rare for Dirk this season, as you know if you watched the Mavs much this year — it seemed pretty likely that the only real question for OKC was going to be margin of victory, and whether they'd be able to turn a commanding 3-0 series lead into a four-game whitewashing on Saturday night, or if Durant and company will concede Game 4 to finish the "gentleman's sweep" back home at Chesapeake Energy Arena come Monday.
The games for Dallas to steal if it wanted to stand a chance of winning four-in-seven against an across-the-board superior Thunder team were Game 1 (won on Durant's absurd final shot) and Game 2 (won on final-minute free throws when Jason Terry missed two 3-balls in the last five seconds), and Carlisle knows it.
"We just haven't made enough plays," he told reporters after Game 2. ''We've had opportunities and we haven't cashed in. They've made one more play than we have in both games. That's how playoff basketball is.''
And, as we saw on Thursday night, that can be frustrating.