Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 5/1/12
OKLAHOMA CITY Rick Carlisle talked tough late into Monday night in Oklahoma City. Sounded upset, too, not just suggesting the Thunder played in a manner unsuitable for gentlemen, but using some words unsuitable for print. Carlisle did the talking, saying the "Dirty bull---- has to stop." He talked about cheap shots and dangerous play, but tried to play it off congenially by saying he didn't want anyone to get hurt. And while Carlisle was talking, not so specifically about the Thunder's version of Steve McQueen in Kendrick Perkins, scuffling and scowling at and with Dirk Nowitzki, it wasn't a cheap shot by the Thunder that beat the Mavs 102-99 Monday inside Chesapeake Arena. It was a direct blow. The defending champion isn't done, but the Thunder are ahead 2-0 because they were tougher when it counted most, starting with Perkins in the first quarter and finishing with another rally late. Nowitzki and Perkins got tangled up in the first quarter and it looked like something more dangerous than a Westside Story altercation would come about. Instead, both players got technical fouls. The fallout meant the teams wound up with a total of 71 free throws, a lot of staring, complaining and talking. "It was just two teams playing hard," Nowitzki said. "He tried to bully me and I bullied back. We talked about some stuff and moved on." Carlisle didn't move on, but he did talk, deciding to marinate in the madness after the game with a head-shaking postgame conference. Yet, no matter how the excuses may come, and no matter who taunted who, Dallas has to live with the hard truth it blew a lead with less than three minutes to play for the second game in a row. And it's two in a row the Thunder did it with defense, bit parts from the bench, another notable performance from Russell Westbrook and a great finish in the fourth quarter. But not from Kevin Durant. Durant struggled for the second game in a row, shooting 5 of 17 Monday, but rallying with 14 points from the free-throw line, to finish with 26. Westbrook had 29 points, Harden had 15 and Perkins was impressive with 13. Derek Fisher played his finest game for the Thunder, scoring 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Durant is now 15 for 44 from the field in the playoffs. And his team is ahead 2-0. "We played well on the defensive end to finish the game off," Durant said. "I missed some shots I would love to make." "Both teams missed some shots," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Both teams were forced to miss shots. That's what good defensive teams do." No one is really confusing the Thunder with the basketball version of the Steel Curtain, but when the Thunder lost their way offensively, lost every bit of their 16-point lead and lost a good dose of confidence, it was the defense that slowed down Dallas. Oklahoma City led by 16 in the second quarter, led by seven at half, then came undone. The Thunder started the third quarter 1 of 11, finished it at 29 percent, turned it over three times and were outrebounded. But they maybe saved this series because of defense. The Mavs led by as many as three in the quarter but never distanced themselves from the Thunder, making just 8 of 20 shots and only outscored OKC by five in the quarter. Meanwhile, Dallas missed two chances to tie in the final seconds both coming on shots from Jason Terry. Nowitzki missed a wide-open 3-pointer with 1:31 left and missed a 12-footer with 27 seconds left. "We have to close the games better," said Nowitzki, who finished with 31 points. The 3-ball I had in the corner was game-time. If I hit that we go up four and it's over." That's the Dallas side of it. The OKC side went this way: After Vince Carter made a turnaround jumper with 2:18 to play, the Thunder scored the next four points over the next 1:53. In between was a turnover by Jason Kidd, a pair of free throws by Durant and another pair from Harden. "It wasn't pretty," Thunder forward Nick Collison said. "But for us to get wins like that is big. We'd like to play better. Well, the Thunder played well enough to nearly choke this series to death. Dallas will certainly have to win both games at home starting Thursday to have any chance of upsetting the second-seeded Thunder. "We just haven't made enough plays," Carlisle said. "They've made one more play than we have. You have to give them credit, and we can't dig ourselves a hole in the first half. I love the way we fought back, that was great." Funny that Carlisle would use the term fight, while at the same time deride Perkins for instigating. But then again, Carlisle complained about his star player not getting enough calls after Game 1, then called out the Thunder after Game 2. Even forward Shawn Marion talked, saying Durant's game-winner Saturday was "lucky." But it was Durant who landed one final verbal jab. "We have to continue to take that punch from them and do a great job of sticking together," he said. "Game like these in the playoffs are going to get chippy."
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