The best place to begin is the end.
The Dallas Mavericks beat Oklahoma City 112-105 in overtime Monday night, thanks to a 17-2 run at the end of regulation.
The Thunder led by 15 points with under five minutes to go. In the NBA, that's ball game. But instead of giving up, the Mavs dug in.
In the final minutes, all I was hoping for was that the Mavericks would push OKC; challenge them. I didn't want the Thunder to have it easy. The game was over (in my mind, and everyone's mind, save the coaches and players), so I thought that if the Mavs could at least push the Thunder a bit, they could test that young team and maybe plant a seed of doubt in their mind.
Instead — in less than five minutes — the Mavericks planted that seed and it grew into a most unlikely win.
As the Mavericks were closing the gap down the stretch, former NBA player Bill Walton (@TheBillWalton) tweeted this golden nugget: "With Scott Brook's woeful play calling, we can only imagine another 36 foot 3 pointer from Durant to fall off the rim before we go to OT."
And then, moments later, Durant did exactly that.
The Thunder had the ball with six seconds left in a tie game. They inbounded to Durant, who tried to hoist up a long three-point try with time still left on the clock, which was blocked by Shawn Marion.
Walton followed up with: "You can write a Scott Brooks end game play on a fortune cookie. Absolutely terrible."
A reporter asked Durant about that shot attempt (because it looked like Durant had more time to do something other than jack up a 30-foot shot). Durant responded: "I didn't have anything else to do. I caught the ball almost at the half court line, seen three Mavericks in front of me and three seconds on the clock, and I didn't know what else to do. I tried to get a shot up; I didn't want to run into their defense and get another turnover, so, I didn't know what else to do."
Durant finished the game with nine turnovers, so his concern about turning the ball over again was justified.
Dirk Nowitzki was transcendent. He has become one of the best closers in the NBA, and he earns every single point that he gets.
In crunch time, Dirk scores either by getting to the free throw line, or by making shots that most NBA players would air-ball. He's not quick enough to get any easy baskets, and still, he delivers in crunch time as well as anybody.
Dirk finished with 40 points on 20 field goal attempts -- another very efficient game.
But completing a 15-point comeback in the final five minutes takes more than one player. After the game, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said: "The one thing about this team, all year, it's been a resourceful group. They keep believing. And we've been extremely opportunistic ... I don't know how you quantify that, but the way they hung in tonight was fantastic."
When ESPN went to Kevin Durant's post-game news conference, the first words out of the young star's mouth were these: "It's not over yet. We have a game on Wednesday, so, we won in there before, so just gotta try and do it again."
That looks fine in print. But if you'd watched and heard Durant say those words, you would know just how little he believes it. That was a defeated man.
The knockout punch should come on Wednesday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas when the Thunder face the Mavs in Game 5.