Kevin Durant scored 24 points and James Harden added 23, leading the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder to a 106-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks last night, knotting the Western Conference finals at one game each.
Durant was as tough to guard as ever, but the real difference was Harden and the bench coming up big, especially down the stretch.
The bearded, lefthanded guard had a four-point play in the final seconds of the third quarter that put Oklahoma City up by one. Then he and fellow reserves Eric Maynor, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook teamed with Durant to outplay Dallas' crew of closers in the final period.
The Thunder's unusual set of finishers outscored the Mavs' by five. They broke the game open with a 14-5 stretch capped by a tough jumper by Harden near the foul line; it put Oklahoma City up by 10 with 3:15 left. Dallas got as close as four the rest of the way.
"They've been playing hard all year for us and this was another example," Durant said of his team's reserves.
Oklahoma City continued its streak of avoiding consecutive losses this postseason. The series shifts to the Thunder's home court - about 200 miles up Interstate 35 - for Game 3 tomorrow.
Dirk Nowitzki didn't dominate nearly as much as he did in the opener, scoring 29 points. He had 16 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as Dallas was its seven-game winning streak end and dropped to 6-1 at home in the playoffs.
"We made it a little tougher for him," Durant said, referring to Nowitzki's 48 points in Game 1.
Nowitzki made 10 of 17 shots in Game 2, but had to earn every one, with bodies flying at him before and during every possession. He was swarmed so tightly that he didn't even score in the third quarter, taking just two shots in nearly 9 minutes. The Thunder also got physical without drawing many fouls. The big German took only 10 free throws, down from 24 in the opener. He even missed one, and it was a biggie - part of a series of three shots with 36.7 seconds left. It could have put the Mavericks within three.
Tyson Chandler had 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Jason Kidd added 14 points and seven assists for Dallas. However, the Mavericks' bench wasn't up to its usual scoring punch. J.J. Barea scored 11 points, and Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic both had eight.
Maynor scored 13 points, Cook had eight and Collison six. Russell Westbrook bounced back from a tough opener to score 18 points, but he watched the fourth quarter from the bench.
"I was surprised but Eric was playing a great floor game and was getting everyone involved," Durant said of Westbrook not playing down the stretch.
Oklahoma City's reserves were so good that Durant scored only four points in the final quarter. Although he didn't score 40 like the opener, he was still spectacular, with a second-quarter dunk that's worth going to YouTube to see again and again, and a behind-the-back dribble to clear space for another key basket in the third quarter.
The Thunder shot 56 percent from the field, and again showed how much their youth and athleticism can hurt the older, slower Mavericks.
* Yao Ming says his surgically repaired left ankle is healing properly and he would like to remain with the Houston Rockets. Yao said he won't know until later this summer if he'll be able to play next season. He becomes a restricted free agent July 1.