DALLAS — James Harden, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook did something Kobe Bryant and the Lakers couldn’t do — make big plays down the stretch to hold off Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
The four Oklahoma City reserves teamed with Kevin Durant to turn a slim lead into a big one in the fourth quarter, riding it to a 106-100 victory Thursday night that knotted the Western Conference finals at one game each.
“We had a good start to the fourth quarter,” Durant said. “You can’t mess that chemistry up. Coach made a good decision by doing that.”
The Thunder got going in the closing seconds of the third quarter, when Harden made a four-point play that put Oklahoma City up by one. Coach Scott Brooks then sent out four backups and his superstar for the final period, asking them to protect that lead.
They built on it from the start, never letting Dallas go back ahead. After a few tight minutes, the Thunder broke the game open with a 14-5 spurt capped by Harden hitting a tough jumper near the foul line. It put Oklahoma City up by 10 with 3:15 left, prompting a big scream from the bearded guard and a timeout from the Mavericks.
In the sweep of Los Angeles, Dallas pulled out two games with fourth-quarter rallies. This time, the Mavs could only get within four points on the way to ending a seven-game winning streak and falling to 6-1 at home in the playoffs.
“Their reserves came out swinging and really took it to us,” Nowitzki said. “We were never really ready for their reserves.”
Like the Eastern Conference finals, the series is essentially starting over as it moves to a new site. These teams are only going about 200 miles up Interstate 35 for Game 3 on Saturday night.
“It should be fun back at our place,” Durant said.
In Game 1, Dallas’ reserves outscored Oklahoma City’s 53-22. In Game 2, the Thunder won the battle of the backups 50-29.
Harden scored 23 points. Maynor finished with 13, Cook eight and Collison six. Maynor handled the point guard duties that usually belong to Russell Westbrook. The All-Star had a poor opener, but actually was pretty good through three quarters; it’s just that the bench was rolling.
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