Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thunder turf champs in 4

Mavericks swept out of first round in NBA playoffs

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DALLAS -- James Harden scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as Oklahoma City rallied for a 103-97 victory Saturday night to sweep the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks out of the playoffs.

The Thunder trailed by 13 points with 9:44 left before Harden scored seven in a row, and nine in a 12-0 run over the next three minutes.

Oklahoma City finally took the lead, and kept it after Russell Westbrook stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and passed to Serge Ibaka for a two-handed slam that made it 92-91 with 5:17 left.

Dallas is the second defending champion in five years to be swept in the first round. After beating the Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals, Miami lost in four games to Chicago the next year.

Kevin Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder, who will get a break before playing the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers-Denver Nuggets series. The Lakers lead that first-round series 2-1 going into Game 4 tonight in Denver.

Even when Harden bobbled the ball in the fourth quarter after Oklahoma City took the lead, Derek Fisher ended up with it and drove for a layup to make it 96-91. Nowitzki then had a shot that hit the rim a couple of times before falling out. Nowitzki had 34 points, including all six of his free throws after that. But he also missed a couple of shots in that span, all close but no good.

With their 20-something All-Star duo of Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with the late-season addition of Fisher, who won five NBA titles with the Lakers, the Thunder got the franchise's first four-game playoff sweep since 1996.

That's when they were still the Seattle SuperSonics and swept the Houston Rockets in a second-round series.

Jason Kidd, the Mavericks' 39-year-old point guard, had 16 points and eight assists. Jason Terry had 11 points in what might have been his last game in Dallas. Westbrook and Fisher had 12 points each for the Thunder.

Dallas led 86-73 on a three-pointer by Terry before Harden scored seven in a row -- on a three-point play and two other baskets. Durant then made a three-pointer, and after Nowitzki was short on a 14-footer, Harden drove for a powerful two-handed slam that got the Thunder within 86-85.

The game was tied at halftime before Nowitzki had 12 points and Kidd made three three-pointers in the third quarter, when the Mavs scored 34 points to take an 81-68 lead.

Dallas had never been swept in a best-of-seven series. And the Mavericks hadn't lost four playoff games in a row since the 2006 NBA Finals against the Heat.

The Mavs looked like they were ready after halftime to at least force the series back to Oklahoma City, where they opened the series with two losses by a combined four points before losing by 16 at home in Game 3 on Thursday night.

Nowitzki drove around Ibaka for a tiebreaking one-handed reverse layup less than a minute into the second half, and the lead was up to 64-54 when Shawn Marion had a slam dunk.

The closest the Thunder got the rest of the third quarter was six points, but Kidd stretched that back out with another three-pointer.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 6, 2012 B12

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