DALLAS (AP) -- The young Oklahoma City Thunder keep getting better. They just are not ready to take that next step yet.
Despite leading on the road for much of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, they couldn't extend their season after giving Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki a second chance.
Nowitzki hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:14 left, after Russell Westbrook couldn't handle a rebound, and the Mavericks went on to a 100-96 victory Wednesday night to advance to the NBA finals.
Until Nowitzki's second-chance 3-pointer, the Thunder had been behind for only a minute of the second half and appeared poised to win in Dallas for the second time in the series.
Instead of going home for another game, the team filled with 20-something stars will go home thinking about what could have been.
The Thunder are sure to remember the disappointment of how this series ended. They blew a 15-point lead in the last 5 minutes of Game 4 at home, then couldn't hold on in Dallas to extend the series.
"I just think we played hard and just couldn't come up with the win," Westbrook said.
But at some point they might look back at the series against the Mavericks, a veteran-filled team focused on another championship chance, as a big learning experience.
"I just know that we played together as a team throughout the whole series, and just couldn't come up with the wins," Westbrook said. "We're not just worried about Dallas. We've got a whole next year to come up to worry about other teams. We're going to come in and just get better (next year)."
After taking the Los Angeles Lakers to a Game 6 in the first round of last season's playoffs before a one-point loss ended their season, the Thunder won two rounds this year -- knocking Denver out in five games and needing seven games to get past Memphis.
Oklahoma City did better against Dallas this month than the two-time defending champion Lakers. Los Angeles was swept in its second-round series by Dallas, including a 122-86 loss in the same building in the series-ending game.
Westbrook and Kevin Durant are 22-year-old standouts for the Thunder, whose oldest starter for Game 5 was 27-year-old guard Thabo Sefolosha.
The Mavericks' youngest starter was 28-year-old Tyson Chandler, in his 10th NBA season.
Westbrook had 31 points in the finale, while Durant and James Harden had 23 apiece. Durant, who after Game 4 apologized to Thunder fans for letting them down, was 8-of-20 shooting with a long drought in Game 5.
Oklahoma City had an 88-83 lead when coach Scott Brooks called timeout with 6 minutes left. After Nick Collison drove for a dunk, the lead was seven points.
Durant, who missed his only shot in the second quarter and missed his first in the second half, scored on a driving one-handed fadeaway shot with 4 1/2 minutes left to make it 92-86. The Thunder couldn't hold on from there.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)