The Oklahoma City Thunder, getting a tremendous boost from their bench, beat the Dallas Mavericks 106-100 to level the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals at 1-1 on Thursday.
Kevin Durant, the NBA scoring leader the past two years, scored 24 points to lead the Thunder in scoring, but was supported by a mighty effort from the reserves topped by guard James Harden’s 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“We have a lot of confidence in James,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He made plays. He made big basketball plays. He’s a spot up shooter, he’s a penetrator, he’s a playmaker. He’s a tremendous player.”
The Oklahoma back-ups, outscored by 31 points by Maverick reserves in Game 1, manned the floor throughout the fourth quarter alongside Durant and combined to score 50 points in the game.
Harden gave Oklahoma City the lead going into the final period by producing a four-point play at the end of the third quarter, when the guard drained a three-pointer and was fouled in the process. After sinking the free throw, the Thunder led 77-76.
A long jumper by Harden padded the lead to 102-92 with 3:15 left, and Oklahoma City withstood a furious fightback led by Dirk Nowitzki, who had been quieted by some heavy double-team defensive pressure following his Game One eruption for 48 points.
Nowitzki, the 2.13m German jump shooter, scored 16 fourth-quarter points to finish with 29.
“They wanted it more and came out swinging,” Nowitzki said after Dallas lost their first home playoff game of this postseason.
“They attacked us, got us back on our heels,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t remember a game we’ve won giving up 56 percent shooting. Give them credit. They played an attacking, desperate game. Their bench was dominant.”
The Mavericks led by as many as 11 points in the first quarter -before Durant changed the momentum with a thunderous, rim-rattling dunk over Dallas center Brendan Hayward.
Oklahoma City finished the first quarter trailing 31-26 and surged into a 59-57 at the intermission.
Durant praised the work of the reserves.
“We had a good chemistry going and the coach made a great decision to stick with it,” Durant told reporters. “They really won the game tonight.”
Brooks sat talented starting guard Russell Westbrook, who had scored 18 points, for the entire fourth quarter after he made a turnover at the end of the third quarter and a foul and then fumed on the bench.
Eric Maynor took over for Westbrook and finished with 13 points.
“I thought Eric did a good job,” Brooks said. “Russell is an incredible player, our starting point guard. It was his time to come out and I stuck with Eric. He did a great job handling the decisions on the court.”
The series now shifts to Oklahoma City for Game 3.