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In their one playoff series last season, Oklahoma City immediately followed its third loss with their fourth. This season, the Thunder are 1-0 when facing elimination, having won a Game 7 against Memphis last round.

“We can still make it a series,” said Brooks, a backup point guard on the ‘95 Rockets. “It’s always about being mentally ready for the challenge, because it is a challenge. There’s no question we have a big challenge tomorrow, but it’s a challenge that our guys will embrace.”

Before this series, Kidd said the Mavericks’ experience would only matter if they faced a situation where their wisdom would matter. It was easy to see down the stretch Monday night.

Nowitzki did most of the scoring, but Kidd contributed some great defense and the go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime. Shawn Marion provided more great defense, including a blocked shot on a potential game-winner by Durant at the end of regulation. Jason Terry also hit some big baskets in overtime.

Like everyone else on the Mavericks, those four veterans lack a championship ring. All have come close, with Kidd losing in the finals twice, Nowitzki and Terry losing the 2006 finals with Dallas and Marion being on some top-notch Phoenix clubs that couldn’t get past the conference finals.

“There’s a laser-like focus with this group to do whatever we can to get the next win,” Carlisle said. “It’s been a group that’s believed in themselves all year long. We don’t quit. We never give up. A lot of those qualities came into play last night. … They know what it’s about for us. We’re trying to get somewhere this franchise has never gotten. There’s a real resolve there.”

Nowitzki embodies that resolve.

The big German was so good in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 4 that Magic Johnson brought up comparisons to Michael Jordan. On Tuesday, Johnson tweeted, “There is nobody playing better than Dirk right now.”

Carlisle agrees, but more is needed.

“For him and for us, it’s not about grading a guy on where he is astrologically in comparison with whatever,” Carlisle said. “It’s being prepared to do whatever you have to do to get the next win. The next win five times is what we’re looking at.”