Dirk Nowitzki proved to be the game's best closer last season when the Dallas Mavericks topped Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals en route to the franchise's first NBA title.
This time around, it's the Thunder who are proving they can finish games as OKC attempts to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference quarterfinals set with the Mavs when the two teams tangle in North Texas.
Russell Westbrook scored 29 points and Kevin Durant shook off a poor shooting night to add 26 on Monday, as the Thunder claimed another close contest over the defending NBA-champions, 102-99, in Game 2 of the set.
Oklahoma City has a 2-0 series lead with the two wins coming by a total of four points. The Thunder again made enough plays down the stretch in Game 2, this time from the charity stripe, where they sank 37 of 39 attempts, proving they can finish, at least in the Sooner State.
Durant seemed to live at the line on Monday, going 14-for-16, a big part of his offensive output thanks to an uncharacteristic 5-of-17 shooting performance. He did grab 10 rebounds, while super-sub 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.
"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.
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 in Game 2 for the Mavs. Jason Kidd totaled 10 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Terry had two chances at the tie in the closing seconds, one off the dribble and another via a Vince Carter offensive rebound, but both missed off the back rim.
"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."
Oklahoma City has to be feeling good, knowing that it's unlikely that Durant's shooting woes continue.
"He's getting good looks," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said when talking about his superstar. "It seems like he's missing the open ones and making some of the contested ones. Hopefully he can make the open ones. But he's fine. Kevin's a terrific player that works hard and works on his game."
The Mavs, meanwhile, are just trying to figure out a way to make that extra play in the waning moments.
"We've played very well the first two games but we come away empty because we just haven't been able to make one extra play," Carlisle said. "We've got to turn that in Game 3, and it's not as simple as just coming home. We have to make it happen."
Oklahoma City also took three of four against the Mavs in the regular season. These two franchises have met three times in the postseason, last year's matchup, which Dallas won in five games, as well as in 1984 and '87 when the Thunder were known as the Seattle SuperSonics. Dallas won in '84 while Seattle rebounded in '87.
Game 4 of this best-of-seven series is set for Saturday, also in Dallas.