In Oklahoma, we disagree on a lot of things. But the one thing that all Oklahomans agree on is that they hate Texas. And no city is a bigger symbol of Texas than Big D itself.
Some people might think it extends only as far as College Football, but it goes further. Every time I travel abroad, I have to answer the question, "Where are you from?" This isn't painful in itself. But when the foreigner asks, "Oklahoma City, where's that?", I have to sigh and say, "3 Hours North of Dallas." We've always been Dallas' little brother. They get long running hit TV Shows set in their town, like Dallas (duh) and the amazing Walker, Texas Ranger. We get Saving Grace and Thunderstruck. People from Oklahoma City often vacation there, wanting to visit Six Flags or see a Cowboys game. But I've yet to meet someone from Dallas that vacations here. When you're as far north as downtown OKC, there's signs on I-35 South that point to Dallas. But when you're in Dallas, all of the signs merely point to Denton. You don't get signs for Oklahoma City until you're out of the DFW Metroplex. Heck, we don't even get to call ourselves a Metroplex. Just a Metro. Darn you, Dallas!
Now, naming the Mavericks as the Thunder's biggest rival isn't to ignore the basketball side of it, either. Sure, the Thunder have had a couple of intense playoff series against the Lakers, the Spurs have always been a formidable foe, national media would like us to hate the Heat, and, heck, we had some intense games against the Denver Nuggets in the early going. But even when you consider what's happened on the court, the Mavericks have provided some of the most entertaining games in Thunder history.
This season alone brought it's share of triumphant moments. Remember late December of last year? After we had come off of a long summer of lockout monotony, still reeling from the way the Mavericks had trounced us in five games in the Western Conference finals? The Thunder had beaten the Magic and Timberwolves, but neither of them were true tests of the Thunder's skill. Even though some were questioning how good the Mavericks were going to be in 2012, the fact still remained that they were the defending NBA Champions, and that they still had Dirk the Dagger Nowitzki.
The game was intense, marked by a early Mavericks run and a pretty close score throughout. But the Thunder had gone up by as much as 8 in the fourth quarter, and a Westbrook steal and dunk put them up by 5 with 46 seconds to go. The victory looked well within grasp. The Thunder were back, and the Mavericks were well on their way to a season of losing.
But before you knew it, the veterans pulled through. Jason Terry hit an amazingly clutch three while jumping to the right, and Vince Carter was left wide open on the next possession for a totally open three. With just 1.4 seconds to go, the Mavericks had taken a 1 point lead.
Kevin Durant was having a great night, but he had missed a jumper just seconds ago that would have essentially sealed the game. Still, there was no doubt about who was going to get the ball in their hands at that point. And....we all know what happened. If you want to relive the moment, take a look below:
Despite the Mavericks anticipating the catch and shoot, and sending essentially three guys to guard KD, he stepped way behind the three point line, far beyond his expected range. Regardless, he drilled it in their faces, sending a message to the Mavs about how far we had come.
But the greatness of this rivalry doesn't end there. We had lost to the Mavericks a few days later, and they faced injury problems the two other times we had faced them that season. The Mavericks were well rested heading into the first round of the playoffs, and many thought they would save their best for last. Heck, even I predicted for the Thunder to lose the series in 7 games.
And, most of the way through the first game of the series, it looked like the fears were well-founded. Shawn Marion played one of the best defensive games of his life, keeping Durant shooting around 30% from the field. Nowitzki had a similarly bad night, but the Mavs made up for it with some amazing shooting from the JET and, yes, Shawn Marion.
But the man who seemingly pushed the mile for the Mavericks was Dirk. After an atrocious night, he had a two minute span that included two nailed jumpers, a reverse and-1 layup, and another successful trip to the line. This run put the Mavs up by 7, with 3:23 to go. Even though the Thunder were doing reasonably well offensively, things were looking grim, as Russell Westbrook had just turned the ball over twice.
It wasn't over yet, though. Westbrook gave the ball up to Harden, and the Thunder went right back to their bread-and-butter. They attacked the paint ruthlessly, getting fouled or getting easy buckets. This, combined with forcing the Mavericks outside, put the game back within reach. It was even with a minute and a half to go.
A pair of Mahimni free throws put the Mavericks back on top. By then, the Mavericks were so focused on closing out the driver in the lane that they completely forgot about Serge Ibaka on the baseline. Durant dumped it off to him, and Ibaka rolled for an easy And 1. Thunder lead.
On the other end, Dirk was fortunate enough to draw a one on one situation with Kendrick Perkins. Harden was forced to foul after Dirk had stepped around the slow-footed Perk, giving Dallas a one point lead.
And then, the situation came up again. Kevin Durant on the inbounds, but with more time. The Mavericks knew KD hadn't been hot all night long, and despite his two recent buckets, his jumper was ice cold. In fact, he had missed one a few seconds earlier. However, you never can count out Kevin Durant.
Was it lucky? Was it skillful? Either way, nobody cared. The Thunder had beaten the Mavericks again, and set the stage for the rest of the series. The Mavericks came close again in Game 2, but the Thunder kept getting to the line and sinking easy shots. The third and fourth games served as codas more than anything else, as the Thunder cruised to victory late in the game.
But, the rivalry doesn't start and end with last season's triumphs. All the way back in 2011 (I was much younger then), the Thunder were playing the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals. Back then, the Mavericks had Tyson Chandler and Jose Juan Barea, and were much more of a title force. The Thunder were in their first playoff experience after the first round, and only had to defeat the recently reshuffled Nuggets and the Cinderella Grizzlies to get to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder were 1-2 against the Mavs that season, and their lone win had come when Dirk was out with injury. In every sense, the Thunder were underdogs.
The first game saw the Thunder get out to an early lead, but get destroyed by Dallas' bench and fall behind rather quickly in the second and third quarters. By the fourth, it was all the Thunder could do to get within 10. Game 2 seemed like it would end in tragedy as well, with the Thunder bricking mid-range shots while the Mavericks went to Dirk, over and over.
The Mavericks bench wasn't too heavy in scoring though, and the Thunder were able to bounce back early in the second. The lead would bounce back and forth, with a few great highlights along the way, including a great Druant faux-dunk on Brendan Haywood. But in the end, we just straight up beat the Mavericks. There was no defining moment, no game-winning run. The Thunder just kept hitting awesome shot after awesome shot, and before you knew it, they were up by 10. Take a look at the triumph below.
But, some good things must come to an end. The Thunder played catch-up throughout most of Game 3, and it was never really close enough to make the Mavericks blink. The series deciding game, by most accounts, would be Game 4. Could the Thunder make this one competitive, or would we end up going back to Dallas for an elimination game?
Unfortunately, this game was the most disheartening of all. The Thunder jumped out to a huge lead, and rode it throughout the entire game. They were up by 15 with 5 minutes to go, and the game was all but sealed. Unfortunately, the Thunder would score two points in those final five minutes, and nobody but Durant or Westbrook would touch the ball. Dirk would score 12 points over the hapless Ibaka, and the Mavs sent it to overtime. The Thunder initially kept pace, but by then, Durant and Westbrook were so cold that they couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo. Bottom line is, when you're 7 feet tall and you can shoot.....you're gonna score a lot of points.
The series went to Game 5 in Dallas. The Thunder didn't give up by any stretch, and had actually maintained a lead heading into the fourth quarter. But they were plagued by the same problems. The Thunder weren't moving the ball too well, and Westbrook turned it over twice in two possessions. This opened the door for a Dirk Nowitzki three, and for Oklahoma City's heart to sink. Dallas had proven themselves victorious, setting the stage for a championship run.
But, heck, even before the 2011 Western Conference Finals, the Mavericks have provided some pretty entertaining matchups. Anyone remember the game back in January of 2010? Back then, the Thunder were a winning team, but the Mavericks were a regular playoff contender, and had soundly beaten the Thunder earlier that season.
This game, was, essentially, a sign of things to come. The Thunder had gotten an early lead, which they often did, but the Mavericks had equaled it by the third quarter. Most would have thought this was when the Mavericks pull away, and establish dominance. But somehow, the Thunder had gotten some great scoring play from Nick Collison off of the bench, and even had a few hit shots from the rookie, James Harden. This allowed them to stay in the game well into the fourth, and an old fashioned scoring battle emerged. Just take a look at it below.
Okay, so we lost the game, but it was a moral victory. Yes, we were still talking about "moral victories" back then. The Thunder actually managed the game well, and didn't commit too many rookie mistakes. Kevin Durant showed us his classic "rip move", and we even got a chance for a last second score. In the end, you just have to bite your tongue at how Jeff Green was way too small to guard Dirk, and how Kevin Durant missed a couple of shots that could have won it.
Now, before I end this post, I'd like to highlight the games from waaaaay back in the Thunder's first season. Back when Scott Brooks took over for P.J. Carlesimo, and Johan Petro, Damien Wilkins, and Earl Watson were getting serious minutes. The Mavericks were in a semi-down year, and despite the Thunder's 23 win record, they managed to play some exciting games with the Mavs.
On December 13th, 2008, the Thunder were in dire straits. The Thunder had just undergone a head coaching change, couldn't figure out who to start, and had struggled to a 2-22 record. Their lone wins had come against the lowly Grizzlies and Timberwolves, and most of the time, they lost pretty badly in the fourth quarter.
But the first sign of hope came on that day. The Thunder got out to an early lead, which wasn't a huge surprise. Kevin Durant was average at best, but the rookie, Russell Westbrook, was having one of the best games of his young career. Jeff Green was killing it as well, hitting a lot of his bread-and-butter mid-range shots. But what was surprising was how Oklahoma City managed to stay in the game. Damien Wilkins (yes, Damien Wilkins), had a great third quarter, actually giving the Thunder a 9 point lead.
The Mavericks quickly recovered, and the fourth quarter was a defensive battle. After two scoreless minutes, a Russell Westbrook layup broke the monotony, and the Thunder were actually ahead with 5 minutes to go. Of course, things fell apart. Russell Westbrook got headstrong, missed a couple of shots, and cost Oklahoma City the game. But, again, it was a moral victory during the first ever matchup we had had with our Texas rivals. Take a look at the highlights below.
On February 27th, 2009, the Thunder took on the Mavericks again. By now, they had picked up Nenad Krstic out of free agency, and had actually won a few games. They were in the midst of a losing streak, but the situation wasn't as dire. Regardless, we wanted to beat the Mavericks just as much as we did the first time.
Unfortunately, early in the game, Kevin Durant went down with an ankle injury, forcing him to sit out. But out of the darkness came Jeff Green. And this game should remind everybody just how awesome Jeff Green was back in the day. Green and Westbrook outright carried the Thunder, with Krstic and even the cornrowed Thabo Sefolosha dropping in points. The Thunder hung around, and the game was destined to be tight.
Why did the Thunder hang around? Well, the Mavericks bench was weak that year, and it was especially weak with Jason Terry out that night. With Terry out, the Thunder would go on runs, including a particularly devastating one midway through the fourth, led by Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder were up by 12 with 6 minutes to go, but the Mavericks still had Dirk. And after the Mavericks went on a 20-3 run that put them up by 5 with just seconds to go, it looked all but over.
Then came Russell Westbrook. In probably the best play of his early career, he got fouled on a three and made the first two free throws. But he missed the third, and Nenad Krstic (of all people) rebounded the ball. He formed a human shield in front of an unguarded Westbrook in the corner, who drained a second three. Before you knew it, it was Overtime.
Unfortunately, this story comes to a brutal end. Jason Kidd hit a three within the last 24 seconds to put the Mavericks up by 5 again, and the Thunder had to try to foul their way back in. They couldn't, and fell once again to the Mavericks, 110-108. Again, there's highlights below.
There was one game left in that season to defeat our foes down I-35 South, and it came on March 2nd, 2009. In the three days since the original matchup, Jason Terry was back on the Mavs, and Jeff Green had fallen to injury. This left the Thunder with a starting lineup of Nenad Krstic, Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, Kyle Weaver, and rookie Russell Westbrook. Malik Rose, Damien Wilkins, Earl Watson, and Robert Swift came off of the bench. If I told you that Russell Westbrook would only score 17 points that night, would you have thought the game would even be close?
Well, it was more than close. The Thunder won it by a mile. The Mavericks only got within four late in the game, but their comeback was quickly put to rest by a late game explosion from Kyle Weaver. Yes, Kyle Weaver. In all honesty, it's the most amazing win the Thunder have had, or ever will have, against the Dallas Mavericks. Only three players on our roster from that game are still in the NBA. Any other words I say about this game can't do it justice. It was the Thunder's biggest win of the season, and vindication for all of the suffering we went through early on. Just take a look at the highlights below. Simply effing amazing.
With the Mavericks going through a huge housecleaning and roster change, it's hard to tell if the Dirk era is over, or whether they'll be any good in seasons to come. But, I can tell you this much. As long as they play their home games in Big D, all Thunder fans will hate the Mavericks. We deserve to be on your highway signs too, you silly Texans!
What are your thoughts on the Thunder-Mavericks rivalry? Do you think the Thunder have a bigger rival? Let us know in the comments!