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NBA playoffs: Kevin Durant, James Harden lead Thunder past Mavs; series tied

By Tom Spousta

New York Times News Service

Published: Thursday, May 19 2011 10:48 p.m. MDT

Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka reacts during the first half of Game 2 against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, Thursday, May 19, 2011, in Dallas.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

DALLAS — The Oklahoma City Thunder should have been rattled, if not by the moment, then certainly by the veteran Dallas Mavericks' furious rally as they fought to hold home-court advantage.

But clutch shots and decisive moves belonged to the Thunder, which believed it had found a funky groove in the Western Conference finals Thursday night while stealing the Mavericks' playbook.

Led by Kevin Durant's 24 points and 23 off the bench by James Harden, Oklahoma City displayed the depth and balance that supposedly belonged to Dallas. Indeed, the Thunder did not steal Game 2 as much as it imposed its will on the Mavericks in a 106-100 victory that tied the series, 1-1. Game 3 will be Saturday in Oklahoma City.

"We just played hard," Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. "I told the guys before the game, playing perfect is impossible, but playing hard is possible. And that's what we did in the second half."

The reversal among reserves was stunning. After having its bench outscored by 31 points in Game 1, Oklahoma City held a 50-29 edge. Eric Maynor played a key role with 13 points as Russell Westbrook's backup.

"We're an aggressive team. We use our length and athleticism in the open floor," Brooks said. "But it all came down to stops, and our defense did the job."

Harden stepped back and drilled a 3-pointer over Jason Terry for a 102-92 lead with 3 minutes 15 seconds to play, and the Thunder kept Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 48 points, including a playoff-record 24 consecutive free throws, in Game 1, generally at bay to end the Mavericks' seven-game winning streak.

"We played him as well as we possibly could," Brooks said. "That just shows you how great he is."

Nowitzki finished with 29 points. He scored two straight baskets to cut the Thunder's lead to 102-96 with two minutes left. But Jason Kidd's turnover helped Oklahoma City control the clock.

Westbrook added 18 points for the Thunder.

Oklahoma City led at halftime, 59-57, and opened the second half with two jumpers by Westbrook and a basket by Durant, a mini-run that forced a quick Dallas timeout. The Mavericks regrouped, and Shawn Marion's jump shot and two free throws by Kidd reclaimed the lead at 76-73 in the final minute of the third quarter.

But with 7.5 seconds left, Harden was fouled by Terry as he drilled a 3-pointer. The 4-point play pushed the Thunder back ahead, 77-76, heading into the fourth quarter.

"They attacked us and got us back on our heels," Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said.

"The defensive end is what we've got to solve," Carlisle said. "Scoring 100 points in a playoff game should be enough to win, but not when you give up 106. You've got to give them credit, they played an aggressive desperate game and just kept on coming."

The Mavericks crave to control the series and fear getting in a shootout with the quick-strike Thunder, who suddenly accelerated the pace and settled into a comfort zone in the second quarter.

Oklahoma City, which trailed by 11 points early, shot 66.7 percent, making 10 of 15 shots. The Thunder's increased tempo forced fouls, too, and it made 10 of 11 free throws in the quarter.

Durant led the Thunder with 16 points in the first half, but he scored only two in the second quarter. Westbrook, shaking off a 3-of-15 malaise in Game 1, emerged with 12 points, including a 3-pointer with 38.9 seconds left to give the Thunder the halftime lead.

The capacity crowd at American Airlines Center looked perplexed by the deficit as the Mavericks appeared to carry out a balanced game plan.

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