A win in Game 1 wouldn't erase the demons of a five-game loss in the Western Conference finals last season, but Kevin Durant made sure the Thunder were a step closer to doing so.
Durant, struggling for most of the night shooting 10-of-27, sank a 15-foot jumper over Mavericks' Ian Mahinmi and Shawn Marion with 1.5 seconds left, giving Oklahoma City the win over the defending champions, 99-98.
The winner of Game 1 in a seven-game series has won the series 78 percent of the time, including Dallas over the Thunder last season.
Scott Brooks called a timeout following a Dirk Nowitzki lay-up and free throw, extending the Mavs' lead to 92-85. Following the timeout, a 7-0 run resulted in a Dallas timeout after a James Harden steal led to a Durant alley-oop, tying the game at 94.
Nursing a one-point lead, Perkins poked the ball out of Nowitzki's hand, as it looked to be in the Thunder's favor to ice the game. But a Durant jumper was off the mark as Dallas called a timeout with 24 seconds left.
Nowitzki was fouled with nine seconds left, made both and set the stage for Durant.
Durant caught the inbound pass from Russell Westbrook before dribbling to the right side. After a spin move, Durant found himself facing the outstretched hands of both Marion and Mahinmi. The ball looked off the mark after bouncing off the front rim, but the iron was kind off the backboard, dropping in for the lead.
Marion was unable to get a prayer off in time.
Ibaka's three-pointer to end the half cut the Dallas lead to 51-48, capping a sluggish first half for Durant and the Thunder. Durant started slow, missing his first four shots. Russell Westbrook carried the load, making five of his first seven. Terry equaled Westbrook's start with a strong one of his own, going 4-of-4 with 10 points in the first quarter.
It's just one game, but there are grades to be given out for both teams.
Russell Westbrook: A
Westbrook, if only briefly, quieted his critics by carrying the Thunder for the majority of the game. His quick start in the first half kept the game close as Durant struggled to find his groove. He finished 13-of-23 with 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.
His defense on Jason Terry, who scorched OKC for the first three quarters, held him scoreless for the entire fourth quarter. Westbrook did finish with five turnovers, but he showed why he should be the All-NBA first-team point guard today.
Thabo Sefolosha: B
Sefolosha isn't asked to do much, but you can't complain with his 18 minutes. He made both of his field attempts, and was replaced with James Harden when Terry came into the game—you can't blame him for Terry's offense.
Kevin Durant: B-
It's hard to say Durant didn't play an A-game after his game-winner, but if he had played better the first 47 minutes, perhaps the game wouldn't have been as close. He was just 10-of-27, but made plenty of plays late, including key assists resulting in three-point plays.
Along with his 25 points, he recorded six rebounds, four assists and four blocks. If the Thunder are to survive this series, 10-of-27 won't cut it.
Serge Ibaka: A
It was mostly Ibaka's defense that frustrated Nowitzki early and often. But Ibaka's 22 points were key to make up for the struggling Durant. The blocks (5) and rebounds (6) were there as well, but his scoring and defense on Nowitzki was a pleasant surprise.
Kendrick Perkins: C
Perkins doesn't have to score to produce, so this has little-to-nothing to do with his zero points. He had eight rebounds and a key steal against Nowitzki as well, but the Mavs out-rebounded OKC, which I give some blame to Perkins.
His job is to be the interior presence and rebounder, so seeing them out-rebounded isn't a good surprise—especially considering Nowitzki, the starting power forward, isn't crashing boards very often.
James Harden deserves an A with his playmaking. Harden scored 19 on 4-of-7 shooting with six rebounds and three assists. Sure, his five turnovers aren't pretty, but they're acceptable with all else he does. Derek Fisher contributed nothing, and Daequan Cook wasn't effective. Nick Collison did his job defensively and with his hustle, but only recorded two boards.
Scott Brooks: B
Perhaps Brooks was saved by Durant's shot going in, but you'd like to see something besides an isolation at the end of ball games—although it's not a bad call with Durant and Westbrook.
Brooks' defense never let Nowitzki get off, and he was able to keep his team's composure, including his superstar Durant, late in the game during a struggle at home. The same problem—slow starts—last year was the same issue tonight.
Brooks might want to consider placing Cook in the starting lineup to stretch the floor, because the Mavs don't have a perimeter guy Sefolosha needs to guard. But he likely won't change it.
Jason Kidd: B
Kidd only shot 2-of-8 and his guy lit up the first three quarters. But he recorded seven steals and six assists. Because he isn't asked upon for much, it's hard to downgrade him for not turning in a triple-double.
Delonte West: D
West was battling a sickness, but down the stretch he was the third scoring option for the Mavs. Tonight, he was no option. Just 2-of-5 from the field in 27 minutes, there's not much to say positive about his performance.
Shawn Marion: B
Marion lacked the awareness to get a shot off at the end, but it would have been a miracle if it fell. He shot 7-of-14 with 17 points and eight boards, while being heavily responsible for holding Durant in check...most of the game.
Dirk Nowitzki: C
Shooting 8-of-18 for 25 points, Dirk was the leading scorer for the Mavs. He hit the critical free throws to put Dallas on top with nine seconds left. But six turnovers, one costly with under a minute to go, held back his performance. You were just waiting for Dirk to turn into the Dirk of last postseason, and it never quite happened. If the Mavs are to advance, he needs to be exceptional. Tonight, he was not.
Brendan Haywood: D
Hard to say anything about Haywood's performance. He had a pedestrian four points and seven rebounds. His presence in the post needs to emerge for the Mavs to stand a chance.
Vince Carter (13) and Terry (20) contributed the bulk of scoring for the first three quarters. While they didn't contribute much in the fourth, that is supposed to be Nowitzki's time. Mahinmi contributed late free throws and contested Westbrook in the paint.
Rick Carlisle: C
Carlisle couldn't find a way to slow down Harden, Ibaka or Westbrook. He is known for his defensive strategy. He'll have to come up with something better in Game 2. He was also unable to find a way to get Terry involved in the offense in the fourth quarter. But he kept the game under 100, which is imperative for the Mavs to win the series