OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to use the same formula as the Dallas Mavericks to even up the Western Conference finals: Get angry and get a win.
After claiming home-court advantage with a win in Dallas in Game 2, the Thunder got flattened in the first quarter of Game 3 and gave it right back. They fell into a humbling 23-point hole in the first 14 minutes on their home floor, and never could climb their way out of it.
"You lose a home game, you have to be angry," All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook said Sunday. "You've got to take care of home court."
Dallas used exactly that approach after losing at the American Airlines Center in Game 2 and yielding home-court advantage. The Mavericks intensified their defense, building a 35-12 lead in the first 2 minutes of the second quarter, then turning away a late rally by Oklahoma City for a 93-87 win.
The Mavs lead 2-1 heading into Game 4 tonight in Oklahoma City.
"If you think about it, this is a must-win at the end of the day," Thunder guard Daequan Cook said. "If we win (tonight), it's a three-game series. Two of the three games are in Dallas, so you want to take advantage of this opportunity to win at home (tonight) and hopefully go to Dallas and win one, too."
After yielding only 88.3 points per game through the first two rounds, Dallas had allowed the Thunder to average 109 in the first two games. Coach Rick Carlisle said he thought the Mavs might have gotten out of their defensive habits because of Oklahoma City's transition-based, perimeter-oriented offense.
"We've got to play with a certain edge. We didn't do that at home," Carlisle said. "We were able to recapture it in Game 3, and now we've got to keep it with us going forward."
"It's hard with the emotional ebbs and flows of a series," he added. "It's hard to win and not have a letdown.'
A day after suggesting that Oklahoma City's defense against Dirk Nowitzki was stretching the rules and "the line may be crossed at times," Carlisle took a step back from those comments. He said Sunday he didn't want to get into "what's legal or not legal" and instead said the Mavericks must put Nowitzki in better positions to succeed against Nick Collison.
Nowitzki's production has been shrinking throughout the series. He's gone from making 24-of-24 from the foul line and scoring 48 points in Game 1 to earning only three free throws — one of them after a technical foul — and managing only 18 points in Game 3.
"They were physical. Trying to drive, there was really not much being called for me," Nowitzki said. "I think I adjusted a little bit and had to shoot it off the dribble and not get all the way to the basket. I think that worked."
Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said he didn't think that either team necessarily benefited from the game being called tightly or loosely. After all, Dallas won when Nowitzki was living at the foul line and when Collison kept him from getting there until the Thunder had to foul him while trailing in the final minute.
Oklahoma City's superstar, Kevin Durant, was buying into the angry talk after he was limited to 22 points on 7-for-22 shooting, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range.
"That's how he thinks. If he doesn't play well, he wants to play," Brooks said. "I mean, he would go back-to-back the same night. That's the way he's wired. He's wired to always play well and if he doesn't, he's disappointed in himself."
In Game 4, Brooks wants Durant and the rest of the Thunder to get aggressive from the start.
"We're really good when we go at you and make things happen and don't wait for it to happen," Brooks said. "I'm anticipating our guys will come out with that type of mindset, going in and attacking and making it happen and don't wait for it to happen."
Western Conference finals
Dallas leads, 2-1
Game 1: Dallas 121, Oklahoma City 112
Game 2: Oklahoma City 106, Dallas 100
Game 3: Dallas 93, Oklahoma City 87
Today: Dallas at Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.
Wednesday: Oklahoma City at Dallas, 7 p.m.
x-Friday, May 27: Dallas at Oklahoma City, 7 p.m.
x-Sunday, May 29: Oklahoma City at Dallas, 7 p.m.