Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
DALLAS — The Mavericks had hoped to send their playoff series with the Thunder back to Oklahoma.
Instead, they made a side trip to Chokelahoma, a detour that took them all the way to the land of former NBA champions.
Spitting up a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks were kicked unceremoniously to the curb by the young Thunder. They officially relinquished their crown in a 103-97 loss to Oklahoma City at American Airlines Center.
It was a fourth-quarter meltdown that doomed them, just as it has so many times in this series and this lost season.
Kevin Durant and James Harden combined for a slew of highlight-reel plays in the fourth quarter as the Thunder quickly made up an 81-68 deficit and charged into a 94-91 lead after rim-shaking dunks by both players.
And while the youngsters were carving up the Mavericks, as they did all series, graybeard Derek Fisher banked in a runner with 4:06 left to put the Thunder up three.
It was Harden doing most of the damage for the Thunder while Nowitzki was getting continual trips to the free throw line.
His two free throw shots with 2:14 to go made it 98-95, Thunder. But Nick Collison was fouled and hit two free throws with 2:02 showing.
Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both missed before Nowitzki finally made it 100-97 with 33 seconds left.
But Harden sized up Kidd and the Mavericks' defense, getting to the rim for a layup with 10.2 seconds to play.
And so, the Mavericks suffered the utter humiliation of losing their crown in a sweep on their home floor.
It took a significant collapse for it to happen.
The Mavericks had not led by more than two points until they hit a stride in the third quarter. Nowitzki and Kidd combined for 21 of the Mavericks' 34 points in the third quarter as they slowly inched away to an 81-68 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Somehow, you just knew it wasn't going to be a breezy waltz to Game 5 for the Mavericks.
When Durant knocked in a 3-pointer with 7:28 to go, Oklahoma City was within 86-83, and the Mavericks knew they were going to have to execute down the stretch to extend the series.
The Mavericks knew what was facing them from the start in this ultimate must-win game. Like the sign says on the advertisements: "Win or Go Home."
So the Mavericks went out in the first half with a much better focus than they had in Game 3 — not that that's a glowing endorsement given their flop Thursday.
"You've got to have the wherewithal to hang in and play whistle to whistle for an extended period of time," coach Rick Carlisle had said of handling a potential elimination game. "The truth is, it's four Game 7s. I've been in several Game 7s. They're great. And this is another one.
CLIPPERS 87, GRIZZLIES 86: At Los Angles, Chris Paul had 24 points and 11 assists and high-flying Blake Griffin added 17 points for the Los Angeles Clippers, who beat the Memphis Grizzles on Saturday only after Rudy Gay missed a jumper just before the buzzer.
The Clippers won their first home playoff game in six seasons to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference playoffs.
Paul hit a fadeaway jumper with 2:02 left for an 82-80 lead. On the next possession he had a no-look bounce pass to Griffin coming in off the baseline for a monster slam.
Trailing 86-80 after two free throws by Paul, Gay hit a 3-pointer with 12.9 seconds left, Memphis' first field goal since 7:10. After Los Angeles missed three of four free throws, Gay hit another 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds.
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