Oklahoma City’s reserves came up big on Thursday night as the Thunder levelled the Western Conference Finals with a 106-100 win in Dallas.

All-NBA Second Teamer Russell Westbrook was benched for the entire fourth quarter but the gamble paid off with the series now level at 1-1 apiece headed into Game 3 on Saturday in OKC (2am, Sunday, ESPN).

And it was their second unit which took the credit, James Harden, Daequan Cook, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison combining with Kevin Durant to hold off the Mavericks.

“We had a good start to the fourth quarter,” said Durant, who scored 24. “You can’t mess that chemistry up. Coach made a good decision by doing that.”

Westbrook, visibly seething on the bench, might not have agreed. But the strategy from Thunder coach Scott Brooks helped snap Dallas’ seven-game play-off winning streak despite a game-high 29 points from Dirk Nowitzki.

The German forward combined with Tyson Chandler to push the Mavs into a 36-31 lead in the first quarter after an early 12-2 run.

But Oklahoma City went on a 16-7 burst after an explosive dunk from Durant as the game – and the series – burst into life.

Down 59-57 at half-time, Dallas pushed forward. Brooks didn’t like what he saw. Westbrook was pulled out with 28 seconds left in the third after a heated exchange with his coach as the Mavs led 74-73.

“It doesn’t happen often,” Brooks said.”Russell is an incredible player. He’s our starting point guard. But we weren’t getting things done.”

Maynor and Harden (above), who hit 23 points, repaid his faith. “They played an attacking desperate-type game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “They kept coming.”

The Thunder’s reserves hit 23 points in the fourth and stretched the lead to as much as eight, and this time not even Nowitzki could save the Mavericks.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked,” said Carlisle. “You’ve got to take it like a man. Hey, we’ve got to respond.”

Pics: NBAE/Getty


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