- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Dallas Mavericks' perimeter defense is what really bothers backup center Brendan Haywood, not winding up on the wrong end of Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant's dunk that was an instant YouTube sensation.
With the Thunder trailing by nine late in the first quarter of Game 2, Durant blew by Peja Stojakovic at the top of the 3-point arc and soared to throw down a spectacular one-handed slam over Haywood, who got flushed on despite fouling the NBA's two-time scoring leader. The three-point play sparked the Thunder's series-tying win at the American Airlines Center and provided a highlight has already been replayed millions of times.
"He made a hell of a play, man," Haywood told ESPNDallas.com during the Mavericks' shootaround before Saturday's Game 3. "He went to the 20th floor and I stopped at the 10th. It was one of those plays, I mean, I watched it myself and was like, 'Whoa, that's a great play.'
"But you look at history -- [Dikembe] Mutombo, banged on all the time; Patrick [Ewing], everybody remembers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen dunks; Kevin Johnson on Hakeem Olajuwon. If you're a big in this league, you're going to get dunked on. And you've got a 6-foot-10 perimeter player who jumps out the gym. They don't make those too much.
"It was a great play, but I'm not even really worried about that. I'm more worried about how bad our perimeter defense was. I'm like, 'Peja, uh, can you close the gate a little bit maybe?'"
The penetration defense wasn't a one-play problem for the Mavericks. It's been an issue for two games, and has played a major role in the Thunder's averaging 109 points against a Dallas defense that didn't allow a triple-digit game in the first two rounds.
That's unacceptable to Haywood, whom Dallas president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson has called "the unsung hero" of the Mavs' playoff run, due to his paint-protecting presence with a second unit that features scorers with defensive liabilities such as Stojakovic, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea.
"Man, everybody is going to remember the dunk, but it's more about how we lined up all night and got beat on basically one dribble," Haywood said. "There's no defense for that. If you make a guy take two or three dribbles to get to the hole, then your defensive rotation will be there. If you get beat on one dribble, you're going to get beat and be giving up over 100 every night."
Said Stojakovic: "We all got to play better defense. We have to sustain the penetration."
On the dunk, Haywood had to make a split-second decision because Durant got to the basket so quickly. He considered just committing a hard foul to guarantee Durant wouldn't be able to finish -- similar to the flagrant 2 he had on LeBron James during the 2008 Cleveland-Washington series -- but didn't want to risk suspension.
"He was up so high that if I would have took a hard foul, it would have probably been seen like the [Lakers' Andrew] Bynum-Barea play," said Haywood, who smiled and joked some about the dunk but was dead serious about the Mavs' defensive issues. "He would have fallen really, really bad. He probably would have been flying so far he would have been sitting by Mavs Man."
Haywood's only other option was to challenge Durant, but the big man hardly had time to get off the floor. Durant leaped so high that his head was even with the rim and the ball above the backboard square, allowing him to throw it down despite getting hit across the arms by Haywood.
Stojakovic saying "My bad" after the play didn't satisfy Haywood, who questioned why the Mavericks had Stojakovic defending such an explosive scorer.
"I was like, 'A little late for that, Peja. I don't really want to hear your bad. Just move your feet a little bit better next time. Just move your feet,'" Haywood said. "I think that's the problem. There's no way in the world we should have had Peja on Durant. That's wrong. We're going to blame that on a coaching error. If Peja is on Durant, we should automatically as a team yell zone. It should definitely be a zone."
Coach Rick Carlisle said unfavorable matchups are unavoidable for entire games against a team like Oklahoma City.
"In certain situations, it's going to happen, cross matches and transition and things like that," Carlisle said. "But, look, Peja did a good job guarding [Lamar] Odom in the last series. There may be some situations where he'll guard [Durant]. In a 48-minute game, a lot of things happen over a long period of time, and you're going to get some challenging matchup situations regardless."
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.
1dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann