If this is the changing of the guard, it isn't coming easy, yet Oklahoma City is heading to Dallas after holding serve at home.
Russell Westbrook scored 29 points and Kevin Durant shook off a poor shooting night to add 26, as the Thunder claimed another close contest over the defending NBA-champion Mavericks, 102-99, in Game 2 of this Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Oklahoma City has a 2-0 series lead, two wins by a total of four points, with Game 3 scheduled for Thursday night in Dallas. The Thunder again made enough plays down the stretch, this time from the charity stripe, where they made 37- of-39 attempts.
Durant seemed to live at the line, making 14-of-16, a big part of his offensive output thanks to an uncharacteristic 5-of-17 shooting performance. He did grab 10 rebounds, while James Harden added 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists off the bench. Derek Fisher, a playoff stalwart, donated 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Dirk Nowitzki led all scorers with 31 points, Shawn Marion added 15 points and eight rebounds and Jason Terry joined Delonte West with 13 points apiece. Terry had two chances at the tie in the closing seconds, one off the dribble and another off a Vince Carter offensive rebound, but both missed off the back rim.
"They have great scorers over there but I think we played well on the defensive end to finish the game off and we got stops when we needed them," said Durant.
A bad foul by Terry with the shot clock winding down sent Durant to the charity stripe with 50.4 seconds to go in the game. He made both for the one- point lead, Nowitzki took a tough turnaround jumper from the left block on the other end, and it went begging after several rolls on the rim. Harden was fouled on the rebound and made two free throws for a 100-97 lead.
Terry penetrated to the rim and scored with 20.8 seconds to go. Dallas played the foul game, but Harden made both to regain the three-point edge. Terry had two chances in the final five seconds, but both contested shots hit off the back rim.
Dallas, behind consecutive buckets from Carter and Ian Mahinmi, claimed a 21-19 lead with just under four minutes left in the period, but the Thunder's explosive offense went on a tear straight through to the horn. Oklahoma City tallied the final nine points with Harden's trey starting the stretch and Fisher's jumper at the buzzer giving the home team a 32-24 lead.
The veteran guard also connected on a mid-range bucket to open the first double-digit lead of the game at 36-26, and the margin reached 42-27 on Westbrook's turnaround jumper with just under seven minutes to go in the half. Four more from Westbrook pushed the scored to 46-30, but Dallas stopped the bleeding with the next seven points, and five straight from Nowitzki a few minutes later brought the defending champs back within 50-47. Oklahoma City grew the lead back to nine and eventually took a 57-50 lead into the locker room.
It didn't take long for the Mavericks to slice into the deficit and eventually take the lead. Dallas made all eight of its free throw attempts in the first four-plus minutes with Nowitzki's two from the charity stripe giving the visitors a 65-64 edge. The lead reached three on both sides, but Westbrook's jumper broke a 77-77 tie with just over a minute left for the score heading into the fourth quarter.
Dallas regained the lead and the momentum at 82-81 on Terry's three just over two minutes in. It didn't last long, as the teams traded blows before Westbrook and Harden connected on back-to-back treys for a 92-88 lead. The Mavericks immediately got back within one on Nowitzki's conventional three- point play, and the two teams traded methodical possessions, before Carter's tough turnaround, after a 1-of-8 shooting start, gave Dallas a 97-96 lead.
"We just haven't made enough plays," said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. "It's tough, there's no question about it. We've had opportunities and we haven't cashed in and they've made one more play than we have in both games."
Kendrick Perkins scored 13 points to go along with six boards for the Thunder...Jason Kidd totaled 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Mavs...Dallas made 41.8 percent of its shots, while the Thunder connected on 44.8 percent of their attempts...The Mavericks dominated the pain with a 40-18 edge...The game featured 16 ties and 16 lead changes.