After an opening weekend chock full of blowouts, we finally got ourselves some chaos in the Western Conference bracket on Monday night, thanks to journeyman point guard Raymond Felton having a game to remember and superstar Kevin Durant having one he'd love to forget.
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With just over seven seconds remaining in Game 2 of their first-round series, the sixth-seeded Dallas Mavericks held a shocking one-point lead over the heavily favored Oklahoma City Thunder, who had pounded Dallas in Game 1 just two nights earlier. Felton, who had shined after taking the reins of the Mavs offense following injuries to J.J. Barea and Deron Williams, stood at the free throw line with a chance to give Dallas a three-point edge. And then all hell broke loose:
Felton missed both free throws, and Durant grabbed the rebound. With no timeouts remaining, OKC had to push the ball into the frontcourt in pursuit of a win. Durant fired the ball ahead to Russell Westbrook, who crossed past rookie Justin Anderson to gain the lane before dropping off to a streaking Durant ... whose layup was blocked by a recovering Anderson. Westbrook tipped the loose ball back toward the basket, but his putback went awry ... only to fall into the hands of Thunder center Steven Adams, who grabbed it and tipped it in with no time remaining on the clock, seeming to give OKC a buzzer-beating 86-85 win to take a 2-0 lead.
But while the call on the floor was a good basket, the play immediately went to replay review, and a second look showed that the ball was still in Adams' hands when the game clock hit all zeroes and the red light around the backboard came on:
Steven Adams basket didn't make it in time. Dallas wins. pic.twitter.com/KRvJmMMROw
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 19, 2016
... meaning that what the fans in attendance at Chesapeake Energy Arena had thought was a thrilling win was actually an agonizing defeat:
... and that Dallas had held on, finishing off a grind-down-the-pace-and-make-'em-work clinic for a stunning 85-84 win that knots the series up at one game apiece and gives the Mavericks home-court advantage in the series, which will resume back in Texas on Thursday night.
Mavs were 14-point underdogs, making tonight's win the biggest upset in an NBA postseason game in last 20 seasons. pic.twitter.com/KCsnsP72c6
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) April 19, 2016
The 31-year-old Felton — a former top-five pick who started for most of his first nine NBA seasons before flaming out with the New York Knicks, joining the Mavs off the scrap heap last season, and becoming a valuable reserve point man this season — led Dallas with 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting, including a driving layup on which he blew past Westbrook to give the Mavs an 83-81 lead with 28 seconds remaining. In addition to tying the second-highest playoff scoring total of his career, Felton added 11 rebounds, three assists and a steal in 42 minutes ... and in the moments after Adams' overturned buzzer-beater-that-wasn't, all he could focus on was the two points he left on the table.
"I'm highly upset with myself," Felton told TNT's Lewis Johnson. "I don't miss no free throws like that when it comes down to the game. I'm upset with myself as an individual, but as a team, we gritted it out, we got it done — we got the win, man. It shows what type of fight we got, after the first game, coming out here and them beating us as bad as they did. Thank God, man. We got us a W."
Ten of Felton's 21 points came in a second half that saw him take over lead ball-handling duties after Williams — who was listed as "doubtful" for Game 2 with "pain in his pelvis and groin," but who started and scored 13 points with five assists in 26 minutes — was forced to the sideline early in the third quarter by his sports hernia.
With starter and late-season offensive linchpin Barea also out with a groin strain, the Mavericks were short-handed and needed multiple unheralded contributors to step up and help longtime Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki. Felton did, and he wasn't alone.
Devin Harris ably stepped in for Williams in the third quarter, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals. Rookies Salah Mejri and Justin Anderson gave Rick Carlisle's club energy, athleticism and strength on the interior, with Mejri chipping in 12 points, three rebounds and three blocks, and Anderson adding six points, five boards, an assist, a steal and that critical game-saving block on Durant's layup.
"It was difficult, man," Felton said. "We're missing a lot of key guys. We've got [Chandler] Parsons out. We've got D-Will, who wasn't 100 percent. J.J. Barea's out. David Lee is out. I mean, that's a lot of our team right there. We fought, we kept going, we kept grinding, and we got it done. I'm so proud of my teammates."
As Carlisle again set about proving that he can take whichever misfit toys you hand him and still beat elite competition, the Thunder offered yet another reminder of how real, and how worrying, their fourth-quarter execution problems can be. Oklahoma City led by three after three quarters, and by seven with just under seven minutes left, before falling apart late. The Thunder shot just 3-for-16 from the field in the final 6 1/2 minutes, and while some of their late looks came off smart designs that generated open shots, many of the bricks stemmed from the same seeming aimlessness that has plagued OKC so often, a familiar script leading to a familiar conclusion: their 15th blown fourth-quarter lead of the season.
While few Thunder players covered themselves in glory in the loss, nobody had a rougher night than Durant, who finished with 21 points on abysmal 7-for-33 shooting and a game-high seven turnovers. The former NBA Most Valuable Player clanked away from all over the court, shooting 5-for-13 in the paint, 0-for-9 on midrange tries, and 2-for-11 from 3-point land.
Durant's 26 misses were the most in a playoff game in 30 seasons. At least he's in good company:
Kevin Durant: 7-of-33 from field
26 missed shots is most in playoff game since Michael Jordan missed 26 in 1997
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 19, 2016
Worst FG Pct In Playoff Game - Minimum 30 FGA
Shot Clock Era
2016 Kevin Durant 21.2%
1997 Michael Jordan 25.7 %
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 19, 2016
Durant did make a big late 3-pointer to get Oklahoma City within one at 85-84 with less than 10 seconds remaining, but that came after he missed a short jumper and a rushed 3-pointer on a possession that could have given the Thunder leads inside the last 24 seconds. After rebounding the second miss, tenacious Mavericks defender Wesley Matthews sprung loose for a huge transition layup that put Dalls up four:
Durant seemed hurried, flustered and affected by the wall of Dallas defenders he saw on nearly every possession on Monday night. After the game, though, he suggested his awful evening was less the result of a lockdown effort and more "one of those nights."
As bad as Durant was — and, again, this was "first time in decades" bad — he wasn't alone. Westbrook finished with 19 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and two steals, but he missed 14 of his 22 shots and coughed it up four times. Reserve interior scorer and glass-eater Enes Kanter was just 2-for-7 from the field in his 19 minutes. Oklahoma City logged just 11 assists while committing 15 turnovers leading to 17 Mavericks points, and were outscored 44-40 in the paint by a Dallas club that doesn't exactly boast dominant interior scorers.
Durant's outing was the neon-lights, boldface-type, conversation-topping source of misery, but from Billy Donovan on down, the rest of the Thunder also need to be significantly better than this if they're to have any hope of making the sort of deep postseason run they've envisioned since the ball went up in October.
The Thunder wouldn't have played any better or worse if that tip came a half a second earlier.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 19, 2016
The process stunk, and so does the result. Steven Adams was a split-second too late to wake Kevin Durant up from his nightmare, and now the Mavericks have given themselves the opportunity to turn their dream of pulling a monstrous upset into a reality.
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