OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Kevin Durant was determined to not let the Oklahoma City Thunder lose another playoff game at home to Dallas.
He scored 25 points and hit the winning jumper from the foul line with 1.5 seconds left to give the Thunder a 99-98 victory over the Mavericks on Saturday night in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series — a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals.
The Thunder trailed by seven with 2 1/2 minutes left before rallying to take the first step toward avenging a 4-1 series loss a year ago.
“It’s the playoffs,” Durant said. “No matter how it gets done, you’ve got to do it.”
With his team trailing by one late in the fourth quarter, he forced his way toward the lane and found himself with defenders closing in and the clock winding down.
Durant maneuvered to the free throw line and got off a high-arcing shot over Shawn Marion that hit off the front of the rim and then off the backboard before falling through the net.
The defending NBA champion Mavericks, who were out of timeouts, could not get a shot off before the buzzer.
“If you have a timeout, you can move the ball (to half-court) and maybe have a look at it,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who had hit two free throws with 9 seconds left to put Dallas ahead. “But if you don’t have a timeout, that’s definitely a buzzer-beater.”
Nowitzki scored 11 of his 25 points in the final 5 minutes, going on a personal 7-1 run that made it 92-85 with 3:23 to go.
He then answered Russell Westbrook’s layup with a foul line jumper to restore the seven-point advantage, but it didn’t prove to be enough.
“It’s tough. This is definitely as tough of a loss as you can get,” Nowitzki said. “But if a team can recover it, it’s an experienced one and we definitely have a lot of older guys who have been through a lot.”
Westbrook led the Thunder with 28 points and Serge Ibaka had 22 points and five blocks. James Harden scored 19 points in his first game since sustaining a concussion when the Los Angeles Lakers’ Metta World Peace hit him with an elbow last Sunday and earned a seven-game suspension.
Dallas’ Jason Terry added 20 points — but none in the fourth quarter — and Marion had 17.
“We’re going to keep coming at these guys. Trust me, we’re going to keep going at `em,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We have a tough-minded team. We have a locker room full of champions.”
The second-seeded Thunder played catch-up most of the night, and Durant led the charge on the final push of seven straight Oklahoma City points before his right-handed slam tied it at 94 with 1:27 remaining.
Dallas went back ahead with an out-of-control possession, with Harden knocking the ball away from Jason Kidd and then Nowitzki losing it, too, before Vince Carter missed a desperation baseline jumper. Ian Mahinmi rebounded the miss and got fouled, stepping to the line to hit two free throws with 1:03 to play.
Durant drove to set up Ibaka’s three-point play at the other end, bumping the Thunder ahead 97-96. Nowitzki committed his second turnover of the final 3 minutes and Durant missed along the baseline before the two All-Stars came through in the clutch — with Durant getting the last chance.
“It was a great shot,” Harden said. “It saved the game for us. I don’t think we played well … but he saved us at the end.”
Back in December, Durant hit the third buzzer-beater of his career — and the most recent until Saturday night — on a 3-pointer to beat Dallas 104-102 in the fourth game of the regular season.
“I was all over him. He couldn’t even get a look at the rim,” Marion said. “He just threw it up there and got a nice little bounce and it went in.”
Afterward, Carlisle second-guessed his decision not to double-team Durant but he was more focused on the series of mistakes that allowed the lead to slip away — including Nowitzki’s turnovers and the defense that allowed Ibaka’s two three-point plays 53 seconds apart.
“We made mistakes you can’t make down the stretch. The last shot always gets magnified, but we made some uncharacteristic mistakes that we’re not going to make any more in this series,” Carlisle said. “We can’t.”
Nowitzki had dominated last year’s West finals, averaging 32.2 points and 11.8 in the fourth quarter. Dallas won both games in Oklahoma City a season ago and overcame fourth-quarter deficits of 15 and eight points in the final two games.
This time, the roles were reversed.
“I thought we had our chances, and we’ve got to create our own breaks. It felt like all season long, for some reason, the other teams were making one more play, one more bounce,” Nowitzki said. “We’ve got to come up and grab them.
“We were right there. The game was there for the taking. We needed one more play that we didn’t come up with.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)