The Mavericks have now lost twice to the Thunder in their first round series, both by huge deficits. If it wasn't clear, those games made it pretty obvious: there's a massive talent disparity between the two rosters, and there's only so much Dallas can do to make up that gap. Now down 2-1, the uphill climb for the Mavericks has only grown steeper.
Still, there's at least two games left in this series, one at each team's home arena. These are the important questions that still matter for the two teams during the final days or week.
1. Can the Mavericks find shotmaking somewhere? Anywhere?
This season, the Mavericks finished the season scoring 104.8 points per 100 possessions, a surprisingly good mark (No. 10 in the NBA) despite their up-and-down play and end of the year style switch that emphasized defense out of necessity. In three games against Oklahoma City, their offensive ratings have been as follows: 70.4, 92 and 104.7 -- all four below average, and the first two significantly so.
To win another game in this series, whether it's Game 4 or 5, I believe the Mavericks will need to score with an offensive rating around 110 or so. Dallas held Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook down once, but Durant's 7-of-33 shooting was the worst performance of his career and Westbrook's wasn't much better. That won't happen again. Dallas can limit Oklahoma City, but they can't completely shut down two of the players who are considered the NBA's top five or six. To beat them, they'll have to outscore them.
It's not immediately clear where the scoring would come from. Perhaps a surprising 15-point outing from David Lee would help, or J.J. Barea rediscovering that outside shooting stroke that was so dangerous as the Mavericks pushed back into the playoffs despite seeming dead. The other answer is a throwback Dirk Nowitzki performance, but to do that, Carlisle must solve the more-complicated-than-you-might-think dilemma of how to get him more shots. Either way, this is Dallas' challenge.
2. Will the Thunder role players chill out?
To get the Thunder down in the 100-point range, where Dallas could conceivably outscore them, the Mavericks need to get some luck. The non-Durant Thunder can't shoot 12-of-18 from behind the three-point line with Dallas retaining a realistic chance of winning. Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter can't combine for 44 points. Part of this is on Dallas, but part of this is these guys returning to the mean.
3. Does Williams have any reason to play?
Be honest: if you're Deron Williams, would you return to this series? To return means to play through excruciating pain from a sports hernia, one that limits what he's able to do on the court. In Game 2, Williams came back and played a huge role in the upset win. As Carlisle said, the Mavericks couldn't have won without him, not without his hot start to begin the game and overall will to win that carried over to the rest of the team. But Dallas isn't going to win this series. Everyone knows that even more so than they did before thanks to the Thunder's second thrashing of the Mavericks in three games. Why wouldn't Williams just end his season on that Game 2 high?
Dallas may not be able to win another game without Williams playing again. But again, is there any reason to think they'll pull off a seven-game upset if Williams comes back for good? Is it worth it for Williams to suffer on a court for 30 minutes or some other arbitrary time on the court? I don't think so. Be smart, treat your body and just get to the offseason. He might be facing surgery for the hernia anyway, which is never a great thing to anticipate. There's no reason to kill himself on the court without cause.