As far as collapses go, last night in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma was pretty heavy.
I know about the 1992 Houston Oilers, the 2004 New York Giants and last year’s Boston Bruins. Those meltdowns were elongated and gradually moving over time.
The Buffalo Bills come back began almost immediately in the second half against Houston. The San Francisco 49ers had 20 minutes of clock left to come back. The Philadelphia Flyers gathered themselves in about a whole week.
The Dallas Mavericks decimated the Oklahoma City Thunder and left them for dead in less than 5 minutes.
How in the world did this happen? Kevin Durant had just hit a three-pointer to put the Thunder up by 15 points with 5:04 remaining. The Mavericks were outrebounded 48-22 at the time; yes you read that right, that is a differential of 26 in rebounds during a playoff game. The Mavs were shooting a ton of threes and not making many of them. Their offense was flat, the crowd was intense, the game was so far out of reach to the eye that my buddy Mike decided to hit the hay and get ready for work and left immediately after that Durant three.
Then somehow Dallas pulled themselves out of the grave… correction, Dirk Nowitzki pulled them out of the grave.
After watching Dallas look absolutely abysmal for 3 plus quarters, Nowitzki piled the gang on his back and carried them over the final 5.
His shot making was spectacular, no matter what Nick Collison did (and by the way, Nick Collison played tremendous defense on him) Dirk just kept hitting shots.
His baseline, off-balanced, one-legged prayer was the stuff of highlight reels, his head fake and patented one-legged fade away brought Dallas to within 4, he kept making play after play to bring Dallas closer to a tie and all Oklahoma City could do was watch.
The Thunder went from a well-oiled machine to an anemic one. Shots that were once falling couldn’t find the net. Durant panicked and chucked shots, Thabo Sefolosha couldn’t connect, Collison couldn’t get a rebound and Russell Westbrook raised more questions about his shaky decision making with a couple of ill-timed turnovers and shots of his own.
It also didn’t help that Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd and the rest of the Mavs defense buckled down and made life hell for everyone of the Thunder players on the offensive end of the floor.
Once Dirk Nowitzki hit those two free throws near the end of regulation to tie the score you could see the dejection and anguish on the faces of almost every one in the arena that wore Thunder garb, including the players.
The young guns who were free slinging and playing out of there minds for the first two rounds all of a sudden looked like a bunch of lost souls. They were scared, timid and searching for answers, Dallas on the other hand looked rejuvenated and hungry.
They came into the overtime period with the same ferocity that carried them throughout the end of regulation. Marion and Kidd were like blankets that Durant couldn’t shake. Their defense was one hell of a back-story to Dirk’s heroics.
(The funny thing about all of this is Jason Kidd’s transformation. 3 years ago before he came to Dallas; Kidd was a mediocre defender that couldn’t hit a jumper. Then last night you saw Kidd doing his best Bruce Bowen on Durant and Westbrook coming up with gigantic defensive plays and hitting the eventual game-winning three. As much as you have to praise Dirk you have to recognize Kidd’s brilliance in reinventing what kind of player he is and raising his game to the next level with a championship so close at hand.)
Throughout all of this the Thunder still had a chance to win this game after Serge Ibaka knocked down an 18-footer. But once Dirk found Kidd for the go ahead three to make it 108-105 you knew that it was over.
A few Durant misses later the meltdown was complete. Dallas had won a game where it was outrebounded by 22, allowed 18 more points in the paint and was down by what seemed like an insurmountable margin with 5 minutes left.
Kevin Durant missed his last 5 shots; the Thunder finished with 25 turnovers and will probably bow out with a game 5 loss at Dallas to drive a stake through their already torn hearts.
The good news is that they can take solace in their defeat by looking at what the Bruins have accomplished. After their epic meltdown last year Boston finds itself a game away from the Stanley Cup finals.
The Thunder can replicate what the Bruins did in part because of a declining Western Conference that they would seem to have an edge in being the favorite next year.
But it won’t take away the sting of this defeat. OKC’s failure to close out game 4 will go down in history with some of the most gut wrenching defeats that we have ever seen.
And we will be seeing it over and over again for a while.