DALLAS (AP) — Kevin Durant suddenly, and reluctantly, found himself at the center of a conversation over whether Oklahoma City’s rough-and-tumble series with Dallas was out of control.
LeBron James steadfastly believes he won’t have the same problem, even though the Cleveland star was called out twice by Detroit early in a first-round matchup of division rivals that don’t really like each other.
“It’s just not who I am,” James said before the Cavaliers closed out a sweep with a 100-98 win on Sunday night. “It’s not the makeup of my game to lose focus on anything. I know what the main thing is, what the main objective is to this game, so it’s not hard at all.”
Durant probably thought the same thing before Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle accused him of a dirty play, and the NBA apparently agreed by giving the mild-mannered forward a technical a day after he elbowed Dallas rookie Salah Mejri in Game 3.
Then the seven-time All-Star was ejected for the first time in his playoff career over a flagrant foul that he said was inadvertent in Game 4 on Saturday night.
And he had to answer questions about swipes to the head, elbows and shoves rather than 3-pointers, rim-rattling dunks and the Thunder’s commanding 3-1 lead in the series with the Mavericks.
These playoffs are no different than most. The number of flagrant fouls and technicals in the first round probably won’t come close to the most since 2000, according to STATS. And it’s not the first or last time for the postseason focus to shift to chippy moments.
“That’s all part of the game,” Durant said after a 119-108 win in Dallas that put Oklahoma City in position to wrap up the series Monday night at home.
“For the most part, no one’s dirty. I know Carlisle and (Dallas owner) Mark Cuban want to tell you guys that. But we’re just going out there and playing.”
Durant, who has been ejected once in the regular season in his career, was fined $15,000 by the NBA for his hard foul with 50 seconds remaining on another Dallas rookie in Justin Anderson, who played at the same high school as Durant in the Washington, D.C., area.
And Russell Westbrook was docked $25,000 for shouting an expletive at a fan in Dallas earlier in the second half.
There was also an altercation in front of the Oklahoma City bench in the first half, and Serge Ibaka got a technical 30 seconds after Durant’s foul for elbowing Charlie Villanueva.
Still, Thunder coach Billy Donovan won’t let himself get drawn into the debate over whether the series has gotten too testy.
“They’ve got a great gamesmanship,” Donovan said of the Mavs, repeating a line he’d been using for three days. “They’re a veteran, savvy group that’s been around, that’s got a lot of pride. We’ve just got to keep our focus and concentration on what we’ve got to do each and every possession.”
In a playful exchange with a reporter from Oklahoma City before Game 4, Carlisle tried to reinforce his belief that Thunder players were the “instigators.” But the scene in Game 4 was bad enough that he flatly refused to discuss the topic afterward, cutting off the first question.
Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki seemed to agree with Durant.
“There were a few bad plays, but other than that I thought it was pretty clean,” Nowitzki said, while calling Durant’s foul “unnecessary.” ”Obviously both teams go hard and when both teams crash the glass, there are going to be confrontations.”
One thing now missing for the Mavericks and Thunder is a competitive series after Oklahoma City never trailed in both games in Dallas.
That’s not a problem at the moment for the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland in a matchup of the fourth and fifth seeds in the Western Conference.
Clippers star Chris Paul got a technical in the third quarter for complaining to the refs, raising the emotions with the Trail Blazers trailing 2-1 after a 96-88 win in Game 3. The series resumes Monday night.
“I think with about 2 minutes left, it was a dead ball and I huddled the guys up and I asked, ‘Are y’all ready to go home? If we don’t finish this out that’s where we are going to be headed,’” Portland guard Damian Lillard said. “That’s the situation for us and every other team.
“This is it. Of course it’s going to get a little bit chippy.”
And in the case of Mavericks-Thunder, a lot chippy. But not so much that it concerns Carlisle going into Game 5.
“The officials will handle it,” the Dallas coach said Sunday. “You’ve got to trust that the NBA is going to have a strong crew and they’re going to handle that. You get deeper into a playoff series, things are more familiar. It’s all part of it.”
Durant, a little surprised that he ended up as the face as of this fracas, would agree.
AP Sports Writers Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Ore., Jimmy Golen in Boston and Noah Trister in Detroit contributed to this report.