What's next for Oklahoma City Thunder?
Did the Thunder blow their chance at winning the West when they blew a 15-point lead with five minutes to go in Game 4?
Let's play a little 5-on-5 heading into a do-or-die Game 5:
1. From 1 to 100: How dramatic was the Game 4 comeback/collapse?
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: 95. The only reason it's not 100 is because, as a close observer of the Southwest Division, I learned long ago to stop doubting the irrepressible talent of Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas' Game 4 performance should rank comfortably among the greatest playoff comebacks ever.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: 100. Dallas gets a perfect score for becoming the first team in the past 10 seasons to come back from being down 15-plus points in the last five minutes. Yet it was as methodical as it was dramatic: Draw some cheap fouls, play some solid D, hit some ri-Dirk-ulous shots. That's the way these smart, cohesive old dudes roll.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game: 95. The only element that cost Game 4 in terms of drama is the slightest predictability in the Thunder's demise. That OKC fell in the closing minutes of a game (and conversely, that Dallas scored yet another win with its late-game execution) should come as no surprise, even if the precise nature of their implosion/comeback was nothing short of spectacular.
Marc Stein, ESPN: 90. We generally come away from these things talking more about the team that collapsed than the team that came back, but this was as noteworthy and drama-filled on both sides as you could have hoped. Durant's uncharacteristically premature celebration, Dirk's ridiculous shot-making and everything else that got crammed into those final five minutes of regulation it was a fitting microcosm game for what's been a surprise-filled postseason.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: 75. Coming back from 15 down in the final five minutes of regulation is incredible. Even crazier is that the Mavs were down 10 with about two minutes left. Seeing the Thunder collapse was like watching a kid forget the words while singing the national anthem. Completely cruel.
2. From 1 to 100: How bad was the Thunder's execution late in Game 4?
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: 90. If the Thunder commit one fewer foul 90 feet from the basket, or find a wide-open Kevin Durant standing under the basket, or earn more than one trip to the free throw line in the closing minutes of regulation, they win.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: 99. With their unimaginative schemes, the Thunder barely even got the ball into the paint late in Game 4, and settled for a last-second 3 in a tie game. Scott Brooks still needs to prove he can become a championship-caliber coach. OKC desperately needs to add some experienced X-and-O assistants like Terry Stotts and Dwane Casey, who have been underrated factors in Dallas' success.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game: 80. The Thunder salvage some points with their defensive play, but even their performance on that side of the ball was plagued by mistakes, a handful of dumb fouls and the terrible misfortune of having to defend Dirk Nowitzki. OKC's late-game offense, though, was abhorrent. The Thunder were far too preoccupied with running down the clock to generate quality shots, and then refused to run anything other than very rudimentary offense.
Marc Stein, ESPN: 80. Really, really, really bad. The Thunder melt late in games because of their insistence on one-on-one play and frequently suspect decision-making. They also frequently put Durant in bad positions and likewise suffer because Durant himself feeds into the problems by hovering on the perimeter far too often. Playing a team that oozes poise and makes you execute has made it that much more painful.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: 110. This one goes well past 100. The Thunder truly had no idea how to score points in the last five minutes of regulation. Dallas outscored OKC 17-2 after James Harden fouled out, and 28-6 including overtime. Consider this: The Thunder were 2-for-5 from behind the arc after Durant hit a 3 to put them up 99-84. Over the next 10 minutes, OKC went 0-for-8 from 3. The Thunder couldn't get anything clean and were forced to just chuck from deep.
3. From 1 to 100: How great was Dirk's performance late in Game 4?
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: 100. The horrifying reality for the Thunder, and the Mavs' eventual NBA Finals opponent, is that Dirk's go-to shot is basically unguardable. Once he catches the ball, no amount of defensive pressure is capable of stopping him from getting off his leaning mid-range jumper. The value of that is incalculable.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: 100. It's getting hard to find words worthy of Dirk's play. Scoring 12 points in the last 4:33 of regulation against solid defense by Nick Collison is another piece of evidence that Nowitzki has entered the realm of the physically unguardable. There's no way to stop him from getting his shot off -- all the defense can do is hope he misses.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game: 85. As good as Dirk was in Game 4, he's been better; he seemed a bit uncomfortable at times and forced a few things with Nick Collison applying heavy defensive pressure. Plus, Nowitzki was right to criticize his own rebounding in his postgame interview, particularly because the Thunder grabbed six offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, Dirk was positively brilliant.
Marc Stein: 99. As good as anything I've ever seen out of him for a five-minute stretch. I always say that Game 7 in San Antonio in 2006 was the best game he's ever played, but he's threatened to bump it out of the top spot twice in this series alone with Game 1 as well as Game 4. Brendan Haywood called it a "Larry Legend Night." Co-sign.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: 99. He was pretty much flawless. That's what's lost in OKC's collapse: The Mavs had to engineer it. The meltdown doesn't happen without some incredible shots from Dirk, who was 4-for-4 for 12 points over the last five minutes of regulation.
4. From 1 to 100: What are the chances OKC wins Game 5 and the series?
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: 35 they win Game 5; 10 they win the series. The Thunder have shown they can win in Dallas, but they won't be able to play at the necessary level to win three straight games.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: 1. Teams with a 3-1 lead have won 192 times out of 200 (96 percent) in NBA history, and higher-seeded teams have even better odds holding that edge. Couple that with the devastating collapse in Game 4 and it feels like a real long shot for Oklahoma City. I think Dallas finishes them off Wednesday.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game: 5. The Thunder may very well win Game 5 in Dallas, but the odds of subsequently putting together two more wins are profoundly small.
Marc Stein, ESPN: 15. Durant looked pretty despondent when he was up at the postgame podium Monday night. Thunder coach Scotty Brooks likewise didn't sugarcoat the depths of the despair OKC has to pull itself out of if it wants another home game this season. I give them a better shot than I gave the Lakers when L.A. was down 3-0 to Dallas in the last round. But not by much.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: 4. I'm playing the numbers. In NBA history, just 4 percent of teams have come back from a 3-1 playoff deficit. However, if the Thunder can somehow shake off Game 4 and win once again in Dallas, I wouldn't rule them out. They've shown they're good enough to beat the Mavs. It's all mental now.
5. How will the Thunder's season be remembered if they lose Game 5?
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: If it is remembered with anything less than lots of pride and plenty of excitement for the future, that is a shame. This is a young team that has managed to play rather well even though most of it has never been this far in the playoffs. Blown opportunities shouldn't dampen our respect for what the Thunder have achieved.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: After the immediate sting of defeat wears off, it'll be clear that this was another hugely successful season for the young Thunder. They would have been the youngest team to win an NBA championship. After leaping from the first round to the conference finals, Oklahoma City is still on track to dominate the West in the 2010s.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game: As a necessary step in their rise, but one emblematic of the follies of youth. I don't think that's entirely fair, but it's the way the prevalent narrative seems to lean.
Marc Stein, ESPN: Another significant step in their evolution, but also a season that put the Durant-Russell Westbrook partnership in the crosshairs. It's a season, furthermore, that showed us that OKC -- for all the utopia talk that surrounds this franchise -- has issues like every other team. But all these experiences will prove invaluable as OKC's evolution continues. Dealing with this kind of scrutiny and criticism, as well as playoff heartache, are all new concepts for the Thunder's kids.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: As another step forward. Once the dust settles around the disappointment of Game 4, people will regain a little perspective and understand that this young group is way ahead of schedule. While this would be a painful end, 2010-11 was pretty remarkable for the Thunder.
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