- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY — Even when he is off his game, Dirk Nowitzki can still get the job done as the Dallas Mavericks‘ closer.

Nowitzki shrugged off a rough start and made a few key jumpers in the fourth quarter, helping the Maverickshold off the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 93-87 victory Saturday night and a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.

The big German had missed 10 of his first 14 shots, but Dallas kept going to him with the Thunder trying to become the second team to rally from a 23-point deficit to beat the Mavericks in these playoffs.

“He’s our guy. In the fourth quarters, he’s going to touch the ball as frequently as we can get it to him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “If he misses a few shots, he’s not going to get deterred, he’s not going to get discouraged. He’s got the kind of will, he’s going to keep going at it.”

The Mavericks didn’t care that Nowitzki couldn’t seem to make a shot most of the game. They still gave him the ball on 10 of 11 possessions at one point, and he scored three times — enough to keep Oklahoma City at bay.

Nowitzki finished with 18 points on 7 for 21 shooting.

“We didn’t really have a lot going in the second half offensively, so I’ve got to keep attacking for this team like I have for the last 13 years,” Nowitzki said. “This team needs me to score and to keep being aggressive.”

NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant also struggled from the field, hitting just 7 of 22 shots to finish with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Russell Westbrook responded to a fourth-quarter benching with 30 points, helping the Thunder make it interesting in the final minutes.

Dallas had already blown a 23-point lead in the final 13 minutes in the first round at Portland, and led by 22 with 17 minutes to go this time.

Westbrook and Daequan Cook each missed 3-pointers that could’ve gotten the Thunder within three, and Westbrook then lost the ball out of bounds before Jason Terry’s jumper stretched the advantage to 86-78 with 1:42 remaining.

Nowitzki added a jumper from the left elbow to put the lead back at eight after Durant hit two free throws, and Dallas held on from there.

“We fought through a lot in the second half there, we stuck together and we grinded it out,” Nowitzki said.

Shawn Marion also scored 18, and Kidd and Terry each chipped in 13. Tyson Chandler had 15 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

The Mavericks, who tied with Miami for the league’s best road record during the regular season, won for the fourth straight time outside Dallas in these playoffs and reclaimed home-court advantage just two nights after letting it get away in Game 2.

“In a game like this in someone else’s arena, coming off a loss, you have to come out with anger and an intensity,” Terry said. “We did that.”

Story Continues →