Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) shows his disgust during Saturday's 103-978 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the first-round series. The Thunder swept the defending NBA champs.
DALLAS — Oklahoma City kept picking and rolling, and James Harden kept making plays.
Instead of giving in and being content going home for a Game 5, the Thunder now are waiting for their next series. Oklahoma City rallied for a 103-97 victory Saturday night to complete a first-round series sweep of the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.
Harden scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in a row and nine in the Thunder’s 12-0 run after they trailed by 13 points with 9:44 left.
“I got into attack mode,” Harden said. “I was determined to make plays.”
After the Harden-fueled surge over 3 minutes got the Thunder within a point, they finally took the lead — and kept it — when Russell Westbrook stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and passed to Serge Ibaka for a two-handed slam that made it 92-91 with 5:17 left.
“He beat us in individual drives, beat us in pick and rolls. He got up a head of steam and was great,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said of Harden. “We tried everything, five or six different coverages going. We needed to be better but it was more about how good he was.”
Dallas is the second defending champion in five years to be swept in the first round. After beating the Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals, Miami lost in four games to Chicago the next year.
Kevin Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder, who will play the winner of the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver. The Lakers lead that first-round series 2-1 going into Game 4 on Sunday night in Denver.
“This goes without saying, I’m excited we won the series,” coach Scott Brooks said. “James had an incredible game. We ran pick and rolls at the angles. … He was making plays for himself or our shooters.”
Even when Harden bobbled the ball in the fourth quarter after Oklahoma City took the lead, Derek Fisher ended up with it and drove for a layup to make it 96-91. Nowitzki then had a shot that hit the rim a couple of times before falling out.
Nowitzki had 34 points, including all six of his free throws after that. But he also missed a couple of shots in that span, all that were close but not good.
With their 20-something All-Star duo of Durant and Westbrook along with the late-season addition of Fisher, who won five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder got the franchise’s first four-game playoff sweep since 1996.
That’s when they were still the Seattle SuperSonics and swept the Houston Rockets in a second-round series.
“If you want to be an elite team in this league, you got to have two or three guys who can go off at any time and I just thought they had more weapons than us,” Nowitzki said.
Oklahoma City finished off the Mavs without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who left the game with 4:09 left in the first quarter with a right hip strain. He had two rebounds, two assists and missed his only shot in his 8 minutes.
Jason Kidd, the Mavericks’ 39-year-old point guard, had 16 points and eight assists. Jason Terry had 11 points in what might have also been his last game in Dallas.
Westbrook and Fisher had 12 points each for the Thunder.
Dallas led 86-73 on a 3-pointer by Terry before Harden scored seven in a row — on a three-point play and two other baskets. Durant then made a 3-pointer, and after Nowitzki was short on a 14-footer, Harden drove for a powerful two-handed slam that got the Thunder within 86-85.
The game was tied at halftime before Nowitzki had 12 points and Kidd made three 3-pointers in the third quarter, when the Mavs scored 34 points to take an 81-68 lead.
Dallas had never been swept in a best-of-seven series. And the Mavericks hadn’t lost four playoff games in a row since the 2006 NBA Finals against the Heat, when they took a 2-0 series lead before losing the rest.
Now they are the oldest team in the NBA, and vastly changed from last year’s championship squad.
Still, the Mavs looked like they were ready after halftime to at least force the series back to Oklahoma City, where they opened the series with two losses by a combined four points before losing by 16 at home in Game 3 on Thursday night.
Nowitzki drove around Ibaka for a tiebreaking one-handed reverse layup less than a minute into the second half, and the lead was up to 64-54 when Shawn Marion had a slam dunk.
The closest the Thunder got the rest of the third quarter was six points, but Kidd stretched that back out with another 3-pointer.
Carlisle had talked during the off day about the Mavericks controlling their emotions after his outburst in the first quarter of Game 3. He had to be held back by an assistant coach when he charged onto the court and was pointing and screaming at an official because of what he said were three missed calls on one possession, ending with Oklahoma City scoring on what appeared to be basket interference.
Before the end of the first quarter Saturday night, Carlisle was mad again — and for good reason.
Kidd had bad pass that went out of bounds, but officials missed that the ball was deflected in the air by Harden. Replays showed clearly that Carlisle had a gripe and that the loud boos were warranted.
Fisher then made it worse by hitting a 22-foot jumper when play resumed. But Vince Carter made a 3-pointer to get the Mavs within 26-24 before drawing a charge from Harden near midcourt.
Notes: This was Dallas’ 23rd best-of-seven playoff series. The only time the Mavericks had ever been swept in the postseason was in the a first-round series in 1990 when they lost a best-of-five against Portland. …. Ibaka fouled out with 2:14 left. … Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who won three Super Bowls for the Cowboys, sat in a front-row seat near midcourt.
Gay misses shot at the buzzer, Clippers edge Memphis, 87-86
LOS ANGELES — If the Los Angeles Clippers hadn’t been so inept at the free throw line, Rudy Gay’s last-second shot wouldn’t have mattered.
Chris Paul had 24 points and 11 assists and high-flying Blake Griffin added 17 points for the Clippers, who beat the Memphis Grizzles 87-86 Saturday only after Gay missed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
“That’s the way we planned it,” Paul joked. “They aren’t going to give us anything. They’re never out of the game with an electrifying scorer like Rudy Gay.”
The Clippers won their first home playoff game in six seasons to take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference playoffs. Game 4 is Monday night.
The long-suffering Clippers fans, who turned Staples Center into a sea of red, very easily could have gone home disappointed.
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 to hush the crowd.
Eric Bledsoe missed two more free throws, Gilbert Arenas rebounded for Memphis to set up Gay’s final shot. Gay, who had 24 points, got some room to shoot, and quickly let go. But it the shot bounced off the rim.
“At the end of the game I wanted to make a quick play,” Gay said.
Memphis had another big advantage at the free throw line, like it did in winning Game 2, but couldn’t capitalize. The Grizzlies made 30 of 39 while the Clippers were just 13 of 30.
“We missed 17 free throws?” Paul said. “We did? It shows how much fight we have. It’s unacceptable.”
Paul did his part at the line, making, seven of eight. But Griffin missed six of nine while Reggie Evans missed six of eight.
Memphis had seemingly taken the crowd out of the game in the third quarter, when it outscored the Clippers 25-14 to take a 71-64 lead.
The Clippers’ lull extended into the fourth quarter. Marc Gasol made a field goal with 7:10 left for a 77-71 lead, but that was Memphis’ last basket until the first of Gay’s two 3-pointers in the closing seconds.
“We shut down and only scored 15 points in the fourth quarter,” Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. “ We took too many quick shots and gave up second-chance points. We gave them the back door and Blake took advantage of it.”
Said Gay: “We missed a couple plays we wish we had back. We had a couple letdowns. “
The Clippers, who rallied from 27 down to win the opener on Sunday night at Memphis, started this comeback with just more than four minutes to go.
Evans made a strong inside move against Marreese Speights to rebound Bledsoe’s missed free throw and score to pull L.A. to 79-77 with 4:08 left. Randy Foye then hit a huge 3-point shot from the left side with 3:13 left to tie it at 80 before Paul and Griffin took over.
“He’s tenacious,” Gay said of Paul. “He doesn’t give up. He makes plays and finds people. We can’t have other people doing what they did today. The Clippers pushed us tonight. They got into the lane. We’ll see how we respond on Monday.”
Forward Caron Butler started for the Clippers, wearing a splint on his broken left, or non-shooting, hand. He was hurt in Game 1, and missed the next game. He scored four points.
The Clippers used an 18-1 run spanning the first and second quarter to take a 36-23 lead, but the Grizzles turned around and dropped a 13-0 run on Los Angeles to tie it.
Griffin put an exclamation point on the first half when he stole the inbounds pass from Speights and swooped in for a dunk at the buzzer to give the Clippers a 50-46 lead.
It was the first home playoff game as Clippers for Paul and Griffin.
“I won’t forget my first playoff in this building,” Paul said. “The energy in the crowd and seeing fans celebrating motivate us. The crowd won the game for us. “
Said Griffin: “It was unbelievable. The fans were on their feet and with the energy through our warm-ups, we had no choice but to play hard.”
Zach Randolph scored 17 for Memphis while Gasol had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Quincy Pondexter had 11 points.
Foye had 16 for L.A.
NOTES: Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro tried to play coy before the game about Butler’s status, but added after: “Maybe we underestimated how tough he is “ … Paul was impressed that Butler played. “If he can fight with one broken hand, what can the rest of us do?” … Butler played just more than 22 minutes. … Gay committed two fouls in the game’s first five minutes and sat out until early in the second quarter.
Pacers blow 19-point lead, then edge Magic in OT
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Indiana Pacers have looked like a team with enough talent to win in the playoffs.
After wasting a big lead in Game 4 against the Magic, the Pacers showed they have the late-game toughness to win as well.
George Hill hit a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds left in overtime to help Indiana survive squandering a 19-point fourth quarter lead and beat the Orlando Magic 101-99 on Saturday to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
David West scored 26 points, including 12 in the third quarter and four in overtime for Indiana. Danny Granger added 21 points.
The Pacers won their third straight game and will try to close out the Eastern Conference series Tuesday in Indianapolis and get out of the opening round for the first time since 2005.
“They did a great job of coming back,” said Granger, who returned to the game in the fourth quarter after spraining his right knee in the third. “That was a momentum win. They had a lot of momentum going. We’re lucky to get out of here.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel echoed that fortunate feeling, but said he also likes being in the spot his team is in now.
“Yeah, it’s a good place to be,” he said. “We feel like we can get a win on our home court. It’s tough to get a road win anywhere against anyone in the playoffs. To come in here in a tough environment and get two, it just speaks volumes of our guys’ resiliency.”
Orlando had a final chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but Glen Davis’ fade away jumper bounced off the side of the rim.
Jason Richardson led the Magic with 25 points and Davis added 24 points and 11 rebounds.
The Magic now head to Indiana staring at the possibility of their second consecutive first-round postseason exit as they continue their tumble since Dwight Howard’s season-ending back surgery late in the regular-season. Including the regular-season, Orlando is 5-11 without the all-star center.
Only eight teams have been able to wipe out 3-1 deficits in NBA history, the last being Phoenix against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006.
“You wish just one of those shots could’ve dropped because I thought our guys worked really, really hard,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We had some really, really bad stretches in that game, but we kept coming … We’re down 3-1 and it’s a matter of mindset and whether you think you’re still in the series or not.”
The Pacers started the extra period with six straight points, including four by West.
Richardson responded with 3 to make it 95-92 and Jameer Nelson fouled out Roy Hibbert with his three-point play following a Pacers’ miss to tie it.
Hill hit two free-throws on the other end to put Indiana back on top, but Davis tied it again with a twisting layup.
After an Indiana timeout, Hill hit a floater from the wing, but Davis again matched it on the Magic’s next possession.
The Pacers quickly pushed the ball up the floor and Nelson fouled Hill in the lane to set up his decisive free throws.
Hibbert finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Hill started slow, but was huge down the stretch and ended up with 12.
“I was just determined to try and win,” Hill said. “My teammates believed in me, and I got to knock down a couple of big shots. I get to ride my teammates coattails and fill in a little bit.”
All five Magic starters reached double figures, with Nelson adding 12 points and Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu chipping in 11.
“I got a great shot off. Just short,” Davis said of his final attempt. “It was on line. It was right there, but it was short. Two inches or one-inch up and we’d probably be playing more overtime right now or celebrating … It’s a fight now. Fight to see another day. Another game. Can’t worry about it. Can’t let it affect us.”
Van Gundy said before the game that he thought he left his starting unit on the floor too long to begin Game 3. He went to the bench for the first time with just over five minutes to go on Saturday.
But Orlando’s second unit struggled to provide the same boost it had in the previous three games.
Still, with Anderson starting out with one of his better offensive games of the series, some rejuvenated play by Turkoglu and strong free throw shooting, the Magic were able to keep nipping at the Pacers in the second half and down the stretch
Things got a little testy early in the fourth quarter, when Orlando’s J.J Redick picked up a technical foul after a post-play skirmish with Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough.
There were also a handful of foul calls that the Magic players took issue with and seemed to play into their frustrations as the Pacers built an 82-63 lead.
Orlando wasn’t done, though, and used a 14-0 run to cut it to 82-77 with 4:40 to play, prompting the second Pacers’ timeout in two-minute stretch.
Richardson nailed a 25-footer to trim it back to five and it was 89-86 after two Davis free-throws.
That was still the score when Redick got free on an out of bounds play and hit a 3 from the wing to tie it with 38.7 left.
A desperation 3-pointer by Hill with the shot winding down resulted in a shot clock violation and gave Orlando the ball with 14.7 showing in the clock, but Nelson’s fade away jumper in the lane fell short at the buzzer.
West said after sweating out Saturday’s win, they are going back home focused, but mindful that the Magic aren’t about the lay down.
“It is hard to win games period,” he said. “We will take the win. I thought it was good from the perspective that we made a lot of mistakes … We were still able to respond and come out of here with a win.”
Notes: There was a moment of silence before the game in honor of Visit Orlando CEO Gary Sain, who died Friday at age 61. Sain, a fixture in tourism marketing, was instrumental in helping Orlando host the 2012 NBA All-Star game. …Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, was in attendance.
Spurs take commanding 3-0 lead on Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY — Through nearly 40 minutes, the Utah Jazz made Tony Parker look average.
He had 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting, and the San Antonio Spurs were clinging to a five-point lead.
Parker the MVP candidate then took over.
"They threw a lot of guys at me, so I needed to be more patient and then in the fourth quarter I was more aggressive," said Parker, who hit all five field goals and went 6 of 6 from the line in the final period to finish with 27 points.
His effort fueled a 102-90 victory Saturday night that gave the Spurs a 3-0 lead in the first-round Western Conference playoff series.
No NBA team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The Spurs can close it out Monday night in Salt Lake City.
"My guys are experienced to realize an NBA game is 48 minutes. Anything can happen," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "You can look at the other games and other series and realize you don't stop playing. They stick with each other and the system. That experience is something they have gained over a long period of time and they feel comfortable with each other, even in a tough environment like we had here tonight."
A sellout crowd of 19,911 was energized from the start, standing from pregame festivities that saw a massive green-and-yellow balloon drop.
The fans were on their feet again when a young Utah lineup brought the Jazz back after they trailed by 13 in the fourth.
DeMarre Carroll scored on a putback, rookie Alec Burks sank a pair of free throws and Derrick Favors scored after grabbing another offensive rebound to get Utah to 81-74 with 8:58 remaining. Favors then hit a 7-footer to make it a five-point game.
"He's a handful and he's very physical," Parker said about Favors, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in his most extensive action of the series. "He goes to the boards hard."
Parker, who took the Spurs on his shoulders this season, showed he can finish just as strong.
His 5-foot floater halted Utah's run, then Matt Bonner blocked Favors' shot to set up Stephen Jackson's fast-break layup.
Parker's 18-foot jumper then bumped San Antonio's lead back to 10 with 5:44 left.
Utah would only get within eight after that on Paul Millsap's dunk. But Parker was there to finish the Jazz off at the line.
"We needed to get this one because we know they're not going to give up, especially in this building," said Spurs guard Danny Green, who finished with 14 points, including a block and fast-break layup that helped seal the game midway through the fourth.
The Jazz, meanwhile, lamented the missed free throws — 12 in all in a game they lost by 12 points.
"Those were free points we need in a game like this," said Jazz point guard Devin Harris.
Harris, after scoring just 12 points in the first two games combined, had 12 in the first quarter and finished with 21.
Al Jefferson also rebounded from two sub-par games and finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-18 shooting.
Jefferson, in the end, was thinking more about Utah's bad plays.
"We can't make mistakes," said Jefferson, playing in his first playoff series since he was a rookie in 2005. "We've got to play a perfect game to even have a chance to beat a team like this. We make too many mistakes during the crunch time of the game and they made us pay every time."
Popovich gave reserve Tiago Splitter plenty of credit.
Splitter missed Game 2 because of a bruised wrist, but had 10 points, eight boards and a blocked shot. He had four points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter alone.
"I thought Tiago was huge for us," Popovich said. "When Favors was giving us trouble, he made shots, got the boards and then scored a bunch during the most important time of the game."
The last time the two teams met in the postseason, in the 2007 Western Conference finals, the Spurs went on to win the NBA title.
San Antonio, with coach of the year Popovich, its Big 3 and collection of castoffs, foreigners and rookies, looks intent on doing the same.
The Spurs won the first two games by 46 points combined, but figured Saturday's would be the toughest of the series.
They were right.
"We expected them to have a much better effort," said Tim Duncan, who had 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks for the Spurs. "It was a good win for us. We had a lot of guys really step up and play well for us."
Utah's Tyrone Corbin, still looking for his postseason coaching victory, tried several different approaches Saturday.
He put 6-foot-8 swingman Gordon Hayward on Parker. And Corbin went to his Big 3 lineup early and often.
Corbin had said he wanted Favors to play more, and Favors showed why he deserves more minutes.
He blocked Splitter's jam attempt early in the second quarter then scored on a putback that gave Utah a 41-40 lead. He followed with a 9-foot turnaround jumper over DeJuan Blair, and then grabbed his own miss and drew the foul from Duncan. He made one of two free throws for a 44-42 Jazz lead.
In 16 minutes in the first half, Favors had seven points and seven rebounds, with a pair of blocks.
While Favors was 3 of 7 shooting in the fourth, Utah's other budding star struggled down the stretch.
Burks was just 1 of 6 in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 points.
A stark contrast to Parker.
"The experience showed tonight," Corbin said. "They know exactly what to do... They make adjustments and we didn't get the energy and sense of urgency when we needed it."
NOTES: Jazz Hall of Famers Jerry Sloan and John Stockton were in attendance. ... The Spurs shot 60 percent and outscored Utah 18-2 in the paint in the first quarter (50-28 overall). ... The Jazz made 8 of 16 free throws in the first half, with Millsap and Favors both missing three. ... Manu Ginobili had six assists in the first half and finished with 10, but scored just six points. ... Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have played 125 playoff games as teammates — the most among any active trio in the NBA.