Thunder coach Scott Brooks had a big decision to make. With Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on the line, he either had to stick with a lineup of four reserves who were playing well or switch to the group he usually trusts late in the fourth quarter.
He bet on the backups. And now the series is headed back to Oklahoma City all tied up, thanks to his gutsy call.
James Harden, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison and Daequan Cook teamed with Kevin Durant to build a healthy lead late in the fourth quarter, then made it hold up for a 106-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night.
"We've always felt confident in the bench," Brooks said. "They really did a good job. But it's always a team effort when you win."
All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook sat alongside Brooks as Maynor guided the Thunder's offense down the stretch. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins cheered on Collison as he tried to slow Dirk Nowitzki. And while Durant was the lone starter mixed in with the backups, he was their offensive liability -- he made 2 of 6 shots, compared to 9 of 11 for the other guys.
"If you tell me they leave Westbrook out in the whole fourth quarter and we don't get stops to win, that would have been tough," Nowitzki said. "But you have to give Maynor credit. ... Their reserves came out swinging and really took it to us."
Harden and Durant are part of Brooks' typical crew of closers. Sometimes Collison. So Maynor and Cook were the exceptions. But there was never really a chance -- or a reason -- for Brooks to make a change.
Oklahoma City went into the fourth quarter leading by one following a four-point play by Harden in the final seconds of the third quarter. The guys who were asked to protect that slim lead never gave it up. They even stretched it to 10 with 3:15 left following a 14-5 spurt capped by a tough jumper from Harden.
Brooks ended up not making a change until he had to -- Collison fouled out with 37 seconds left. Brooks' only other move was taking out Cook for the last 13 seconds.
"You can't mess that chemistry up," Durant said. "Coach made a good decision."
By slowing Nowitzki and the Mavericks down the stretch, the Thunder reserves did something that Kobe Bryant and the Lakers couldn't.
Dallas erased a pair of fourth-quarter deficits during a sweep of the two-time reigning NBA champs last round. Those wins were part of a seven-game streak the Mavs had been riding. They also had been 6-0 at home this postseason.
Like the Eastern Conference finals, this series is essentially starting over. The scene shifts about 200 miles up Interstate 35 for Game 3 on Saturday night, and Game 4 on Monday night. A return trip to Dallas for Game 5 on Wednesday night is guaranteed, too.
"It should be fun back at our place," Durant said.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle complained about his defense after Game 1 , but it seemed like coach-speak, something to gripe about for the sake of griping. He's got their attention now, though, after seeing the Thunder make 56 percent of their shots. Dallas came into this series not having allowed more than 97 points in any playoff game, and Oklahoma City has shattered that in both games.
"Scoring 100 points in a playoff game should be enough to win," Carlisle said. "Not if you're giving up 106, 112. Give them credit. They played an attacking, desperate game. Their bench was dominant when they played."
In Game 1, Dallas' reserves outscored Oklahoma City's 53-22. In Game 2, the Thunder won the battle of the backups 50-29.
Harden scored 23 points. In the fourth quarter, he made 4 of 5 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Maynor finished with 13 points, Cook eight and Collison six.
Durant still led the Thunder with 24 points. DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd made things a lot tougher for him than in the opener, when he scored 40, but he was still spectacular at times. He had a first-quarter dunk that's worth going to YouTube to see again and again, and a behind-the-back dribble to clear space for another key basket in the third quarter.
Westbrook scored 18 points, making 7 of 15 shots.
Nowitzki went from scoring 48 in the opener to having only 13 points through three quarters. He didn't even score in the third period, taking just two shots in nearly 9 minutes. He scored 16 in the fourth quarter to finish with 29.
He was still efficient, making 10 of 17 shots, but he had to earn everything, with bodies flying at him before and during every possession. The Thunder also got physical without drawing many fouls. The big German took only 10 free throws, down from 24 in the opener. He even missed one, and it was a biggie -- part of a series of three shots with 36.7 seconds left. It could have pulled the Mavericks within three.
"I think we did a better job of making his catches a little tougher," Collison said. "We didn't use our hands as much. We wanted to challenge his shots and hope he missed them."
Notes: Oklahoma City continued its streak of avoiding consecutive losses this postseason. Counting the regular season and playoffs, the Thunder are 26-6 in the game following a loss. ... Nowitzki's missed free throw ended a stretch of 39 straight makes dating to Game 2 of the second round. ... The Thunder allowed six 30-point quarters through their first 12 playoff games. They did it four times in the first five quarters of this series, but clamped down after that. ... Dallas' last loss was in Game 4 of the first round, when it blew a 23-point lead over the final 14 minutes against Portland. ... This was the first time all season the Mavs lost when Nowitzki took at least 10 free throws. They had been 17-0.