OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dirk Nowitzki's shoulders slumped, thinking the Thunder had won. Under the basket, the ball fell on top of Wesley Matthews, who turned towards the baseline and kicked it away. But as Steven Adams walked by him, hands raised in celebration after his potentially game-winning layup, Justin Anderson frantically signaled no good.
"They did a good job going over and reviewing fast," Anderson said. "My stomach dropped. I was waiting."
Anderson inadvertently inched closer and closer to the scorer's table, where the officiating crew huddled. "You've gotta step back," a police officer told him when he came a little too close. About 20 seconds is all the officials needed to wave off Adams' shot -- but for the players on the court, it was an eternity.
"We were almost sure it was out of his hand," Salah Mejri told Mavs Moneyball.
"I thought actually we lost it at the buzzer," Nowitzki said. "We were fortunate."
Adams' shot coming a fraction of a second too late saved the Mavericks' 85-84 win. But though the exact timing of the buzzer may have been out of their control, the raw effort they exerted to get there wasn't. One huge break, completely out of their control, justified the hundreds of self-made ones that had come in the 48 minutes prior.
Everything about Monday's win made sense for a team that makes so little of it. Dallas suffocated Kevin Durant, who shot 7-of-33 from the floor with seven turnovers in his worst playoff game ever. Durant's a transcendent scorer capable of making nearly any shot, so Dallas can't take full credit. In several instances, Durant just missed.
But 48 minutes of defense from Wesley Matthews and Anderson was the bigger factor. Matthews' 3-of-11 shooting was clearly overshadowed by his defense resembling a hound dog in a full-speed chase. Despite standing nearly six inches shorter than Durant, Matthews' overt, relentless physicality made up the difference on Monday. When he came off the floor briefly, Anderson took over and didn't budge an inch. After the game, Matthews immediately felt comfortable saying that his game was one of the best of his career after the game, just because of what the team accomplished.
"Not one individual can slow him down," Matthews said. "My offense wasn't there, but I would be damned if I let that lead to an L for us. I was just trying to expend all my energy on the defensive end of the ball."
Matthews and Anderson were just one part. Raymond Felton's 42 minutes and 21 points -- from a player who entered the season as a total afterthought -- was another. Salah Mejri's energy off the bench factored in. Dirk Nowitzki's 17 points frequently came at opportune times. And Rick Carlisle wouldn't let anyone look past Deron Williams, who was listed as doubtful with a sports hernia before the game but played through it to score 11 first quarter points.
"None of this would have been possible without Deron," Carlisle said, seconds into his opening statement. "His effort in the Utah game, he played a huge game that night, his second game back after a two-week hiatus. That game got us in the playoffs. Tonight, had he not played the first 26 minutes, we wouldn't be in a position to win."
A third quarter layup really reaggravated the injury for Williams. He tried to return later in the game, but the Mavericks staff ruled him out for the game despite his protests. After the game, Williams praised his teammates who finished the game in his absence.
"It would be hard to give a game ball on a night like tonight, because so many people stepped up," Williams said.
That's how this team made an improbable late playoff push, inexplicitly starting when Chandler Parsons went down for the year with knee surgery. When Nowitzki was the star in March, averaging nearly 22 points for the month, Dallas dropped to 35-38 and were nearly pronounced dead. Instead, it was a team effort from the entire roster that resuscitated the Mavericks, as terribly cliched as that is. That's how this team feels, at least. That's what they've tried to embody for a month now. The entire roster will vouch for it, even the youngest member of the team.
"It's the chemistry we got, man," Anderson said. "(It's us) trusting in each other. I mean, look at the scoring, it's balanced. Guys are moving the rock, making the right pass, trusting and believing in one another."
In the chaos of Adams' non-winner, Anderson making the biggest play of the game was overlooked. With the seconds ticking down, Russell Westbrook flew down the court in a blur, dumping the ball to Kevin Durant right under the basket. Durant rose up for a game-winning layup, one that would have come with plenty of time left on the clock -- and Anderson rose with him, deflecting the ball away.
"I don't even think he knows what he did out there," Matthews said.
Dallas coming away with a Game 2 win and a 1-1 win seemed improbable entering Monday. But so many things about the Mavericks seemed improbable this season. What's one more improbability?
"We are a very humble team," Carlisle said. "We are very resilient and very proud. We are proud that we could win this game and we know that now it's on."