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Dirk's late charge not enough to lift Mavs as bench struggles

Associated Press

5/20/2011 12:24:18 AM

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki knew his marvellous Game 1 wouldn't mean much if the Dallas Mavericks couldn't follow it up with another victory in Game 2.

Nowitzki followed his NBA playoff-high 48-point performance by scoring 29 points-- including 16 in the fourth quarter -- but the Mavericks lost to the Thunder 106-100 to even the series at a win apiece heading into Game 3 on Saturday night in Oklahoma City.

"Usually if you're the road team and you start in a tough building, usually you go for a split or you try to win one. That's what they did, so they have the momentum," Nowitzki said.

"So, we've got to go up there in a tough environment, in a very loud building and execute and play Mavs basketball and get back to getting some stops like we did in the first two series, and then I'll like our chances."

Nowitzki scored all but eight of Dallas' points in the final period, hitting seven of 10 shots, but it wasn't enough to rally the Mavericks down the stretch.

Nowitzki had just 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting after going scoreless in the third quarter. By contrast, he had 17 points and matched an NBA post-season record by hitting all 13 of his free throws in the third quarter two nights earlier.

In Game 1, Dallas headed into the fourth with an 11-point lead and held off a late charge from Oklahoma City.

In the rematch, the Thunder's late push put the game away in their favour.

"The guy is still tough. He scored a lot down the stretch when they needed it," Oklahoma City's Nick Collison said of Nowitzki. "But we did enough early to get the win."

Nowitzki couldn't reproduce his masterful effort from Game 1, when he hit 36 of the 39 shots he took -- including all 24 of his free throws. Since they couldn't stop him once he had the ball, the Thunder did their best to prevent him from ever touching it -- then sent more frequent double-teams on the occasions he did.

"We were trying to make things difficult for him," Oklahoma City guard James Harden said. "He's so tall and it makes it hard to contest, but I think Nick and Serge (Ibaka) did a great job on him tonight."

Nowitzki finally solved the problem in the fourth quarter, doing much of his damage from the high post.

"It's impossible to front there and so basically in the fourth quarter, I still got my catches and tried to make some stuff happen," Nowitzki said.

Even with his impressive closing charge, Nowitzki played a role in the Mavericks' demise. He had a shot blocked by Collison, then turned the ball over on the next possession as the Thunder reeled off seven straight points to bump their lead to 102-92 with 3:15 to play.

Then, his run of 39 consecutive free throws came to an end with a key miss that kept Dallas from making it a one-possession game with 36.7 seconds left.

"Tough loss but we feel we're a good road team. ... I think we can compete on the road. We've just got to be a little sharper than we were in the first two," Nowitzki said.

"We said it after Game 1: 'We've got to be better on both ends,' and we weren't. We weren't today, so we didn't deserve to win."

Oklahoma City did a much better job of defending Nowitzki without fouling after six defenders were whistled while defending him in the opener. The big German was 9 for 10 from the foul line Thursday.

Dallas lost for the first time in 18 games this season when Nowitzki attempted at least 10 free throws.

"He still had 10 free throws, but it's better than 24. So we kept him off the line," Collison said. "We didn't use our hands as much. We wanted to challenge his shots and hope he missed them."

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle didn't think the problem was failing to get the ball to Nowitzki enough. He was focused on another off performance from the Mavericks' defence, which has given up its most points of the post-season in the last two games.

Dallas was allowing opponents only 88.2 points per game and hadn't given up more than 97 in the playoffs before a 121-112 win in Game 1 against Oklahoma City.

"Scoring 100 points in a playoff game should be enough to win, but not if you're giving up 106 or 112," Carlisle said. "It's just too much.

"You've got to give them credit. They played an attacking, desperate type game. They kept coming. They did not get discouraged. Their bench was dominant when they played. We have got to do a better job at the defensive end."