DALLAS – The young Oklahoma City Thunder keep getting better. They just are not ready to take that next step yet.
Despite leading on the road for much of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, they couldn’t extend their season after giving Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki a second chance.
Nowitzki hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:14 left, after Russell Westbrook couldn’t handle a rebound, and the Mavericks went on to a 100-96 victory Wednesday night to advance to the NBA finals.
Until Nowitzki’s second-chance 3-pointer, the Thunder had been behind for only a minute of the second half and appeared poised to win in Dallas for the second time in the series.
“I just think we played hard and just couldn’t come up with the win,” said Westbrook, who scored 31 points.
Instead of going home for another game, the team filled with young stars will go home thinking about what could have been.
The Thunder are sure to remember the disappointment of how this series ended. They blew a 15-point lead in the last 5 minutes of Game 4 at home, then couldn’t hold on with a late lead when facing elimination.
But at some point they might look back at the series against the Mavericks, a veteran-filled team focused on another championship chance, as a big learning experience.
“We want to win a championship. We respect the process that it takes to win one, and our guys do the same thing, they respect the heck out of the game,” coach Scott Brooks said. “You can’t skip steps. I don’t know how soon we were going to get there, but I can tell you this, those guys are not going to hope to get there, they are going to work to get there.”
After taking the Los Angeles Lakers to a Game 6 in the first round of last season’s playoffs before a one-point loss ended their season, the Thunder won two rounds this year – knocking Denver out in five games and needing seven games to get past Memphis.
Oklahoma City did better against Dallas this month than the two-time defending champion Lakers. Los Angeles was swept in its second-round series by the Mavericks.