Rick Carlisle: Mavs 'fortunate' to be 1-1
DALLAS -- Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, dismayed that the Oklahoma City Thunder have averaged 109 points on 51.4 percent shooting to earn a road split in the Western Conference finals, said his team must quickly regain its defensive edge.
"We have been resilient; we're going to have to be resilient here," Carlisle said. "We have not played to the level in either game that we need to play to. We're fortunate to have won the first game, but we've got to go into this next game like we're down 0-2."
Dallas entered the series second only to the Chicago Bulls in defensive scoring, allowing a tick more than 88 points a game. They had not allowed 100 points in their first 10 playoff games against the Portland Trail Blazers and a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yet the young and athletic Thunder, led by Kevin Durant's 40 points in the Game 1 loss, and then a 50-point outburst from its bench to even the series in Game 2, has amassed 218 points in the first two games, and shot 55.7 percent in Thursday's night's victory.
"You know, Portland and L.A. obviously are bigger teams, and now we're facing a different animal," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We're facing athletes on the wing, and we're having a tough time getting some stops."
Tyson Chandler, the Mavs' defensive anchor, said Dallas took the Thunder lightly after their electric win in Game 1 when Nowitzki scored 48 points. On Friday, Chandler said Dallas didn't deserve to win Thursday's game after yielding 33 points in the second quarter and 29 in the fourth, predominantly to the Thunder's reserves.
"We didn't deserve to win. I'm not going to say a loss is ever good because I don't ever like to lose. It doesn't do well for my sleep pattern," the emotionally driven Chandler said. "But, sometimes you need to get hit on the chin and get woke up. Last night, they hit us on the chin. Hopefully, that woke us up."
Chandler said he believes the Mavs, collectively a decade older than their West finals counterparts, will deliver a ramped-up defensive intensity in Oklahoma City.
"I feel like we'll prevail in this series," Chandler said. "There's no doubt in my mind at all. But, it's a game-by-game situation."
It is the first taste of adversity for the Mavs since they coughed up a 23-point lead in the final 14 minutes of Game 4 at the Rose Garden in Portland. It knotted the first-round series at 2-2, but Dallas regrouped and reeled off seven consecutive victories until Thursday night.
The loss was also Dallas' first at home during the playoffs and it's the first time the Mavs hit the road with the risk of falling behind in a series.
With the addition of the 7-foot-1 Chandler, the Mavs bought into Carlisle's defensive preaching during training camp, believing it to be a one-way ticket back to the NBA Finals.
It spurred their 24-5 start to the season, but mid-season injuries factored into defensive slippage in the second half of the season, although Dallas still finished among the league's top 10 in defensive scoring and efficiency.
The Mavs rediscovered their defensive groove, going 8-2 through the first two rounds and allowing fewer than 90 points six times. The Thunder have obliterated that mark.
"It's something we talked about after Game 1," Carlisle said. "Sometimes you can talk about things, but until you get smashed in the face it doesn't really hit you where things are at. Again, you look at 109 points being scored on you in two games. The fact that we've won one of those games is a good thing, but defensively we have not been good in either game."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.