Sunday, April 19, 2009

Game 1: Mavs 105, Spurs 97 (1-0)

Read all About the Game 1 win here ...

It has been a while. You know, since you felt that undeniable feeling of accomplishing a small mission in the post-season. The feeling of the Mavericks putting an opponent to the sword on their home floor. In an arena filled with their fans, in their city, and seemingly with their good fortune.

And while the local basketball squad - that has been left for dead by many of its fans - is a long, long way from redemption, every journey begins with a step, and that step was taken last night in an impressive and somewhat stunning 105-97 win in San Antonio against the Spurs.

Do you remember June 3, 2006? I do. I remember it well. It seems like it was not that long ago on one hand, the night the Mavericks earned their ticket to the 2006 NBA Finals with a victory over the Suns in Phoenix. And, it is the last time the Mavericks won a playoff game outside of the American Airlines Center. When you pull out a calendar, you see it has been a long time since we rock and rolled. Mavs 102, Suns 93

Do you want to know what 1,050 days of playoff heartbreak looks like? Here are the 9 consecutive failed road tests during that time:

June 13, 2006 Heat 98, Mavs 96
June 15, 2006 Heat 98, Mavs 74
June 18, 2006 Heat 101, Mavs 100 (OT)
April 27, 2007 Warriors 109, Mavs 91
April 29, 2007 Warriors 103, Mavs 99
May 3, 2007 Warriors 111, Mavs 86
April 19, 2008 Hornets 104, Mavs 92
April 22, 2008 Hornets 127, Mavs 103
April 29, 2008 Hornets 99, Mavs 94

Wow. Imagine the Heart Breaks. The self-doubt. The calls from us all to "give it up" and "blow it up". There is a lot of emotional baggage jammed into those 9 horrid nights. And if it is impossible for those of us who enjoy this team to look those last 1,050 days in the eye, I can only imagine how it feels for Dirk, Jet, Josh, and Damp to deal with the criticism, the humiliation, and even the laughs.

Let's keep this in perspective. The bar has certainly been lowered. The team is not held to the "NBA Title or Bust" mantra of 2007. Heck, this team has backed expectations back to a point where I think a first round win would be considered a successful season. And let's not forget their foe is nowhere near the threat of the 2006 or 2007 San Antonio Spurs. That is a depleted team that appears to have very little beyond its two "all-world" performers who are still in uniform. And last, but not least, in the "let's keep perspective" department, let's not forget this is Game 1. A game the Spurs are actually quite used to losing, and frankly, not uncomfortable with that concept either.


We didn't know if the Mavericks (this verison of them) still had this in them. We didn't know if the emotional scars of failures of the last 1,050 days would keep them from sticking the sword into the heart of an opponent begging for mercy. We didn't know if they would be able to venture into enemy grounds and make the plays at crunch time to put one in that elusive win column. Now we do.

Game 1 of a seven game series represents roughly 14% of the series. That means that 86% of the basketball in this series has yet to be played. We don't call an election after 14% of the votes have been counted, and we certainly won't consider that win any more than a nice way to start, but...

The following are my random notes and observations from a win that proved this team is not completely helpless on the road in the 2009 NBA Playoffs:

* So let me get this straight; The Mavs do not get exceptional performances from Dirk, Jason Kidd, nor Jason Terry. The Spurs get 51 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and 78 minutes from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and as a team shoot 11-14 from 3-point range for an unreal 79%. The game is in San Antonio, and the Mavericks won...with some level of ease? Yes, please.

* If you are like me, about 18 months ago, you wondered what exactly JJ Barea had done to earn a spot in the NBA. Also, if you are like me, about 4 months ago, you begged his forgiveness for judging a book by its cover. If you aren't like me, and still have questions about his value or worth, then you might not want to apply for an NBA GM openings. Imagine, the Mavs have a point guard who causes the opponent complete mismatch fits! And make no mistake about it, he does. Tony Parker must have been so excited to play against Jason Kidd and Antoine Wright heading into this series. And now, after one game, you got the sense that everyone saw Barea get in his head a bit. Even Popovich indicated that it appeared Parker was interested in getting in a one-on-one battle to the detriment of the Spurs. When Barea drew back to back offensive fouls off of Parker, it certainly seemed that Barea had earned his way into the series. The back-up point guard for San Antonio has been a position of need for about 5 years now, and while I don't think Jacque Vaughn is even on the radar, I would not be shocked to see George Hill get a chance on Monday. There is no way Parker can take on Barea and Kidd for 48 minutes. Pop took Parker out of the game in the 3rd Quarter for a grand total of 38 seconds. The depth issue is remarkable at guard for San Antonio.

* Meanwhile, on the show this week, I made the bold claim that while I admit Josh is the key to this offense (if he settles for jumpers and more jumpers this team is doomed) I also made the claim he is only the 4th most valuable Maverick. How can that be? Which do I have wrong? In 2008-09, Dirk has been the best player. Then, the debate will be Jet vs. Kidd for who is 2 and who is 3. So, that logically leaves Josh as the 4th best player in the mix. So, why, is the difference he makes so obvious? In the 3rd Quarter last night, in a game in which the Spurs were not going to make things easy on Dirk or Terry at all, Josh started hitting one shot after another. In the first 9 minutes of the 3rd, the Mavs went from down 5 to up 9 points. That +14 stretch was almost all Josh. I honestly feel that he has restored almost all of his trade value (of course, why would you trade THIS version of Josh?) over the last 4 weeks - both by his presence and his absence. I still think he settles too much from the perimeter (3 for 8 last night from 17+ feet; 6-10 inside 15) but nights like last night he absolutely makes this team so much tougher to guard.

* Why do I enjoy wins in San Antonio so much? I like to see their fans mad. And that isn't tough. What is more fun than the collective groan of 18,000+ every single time they show a replay on the scoreboard? The Spurs have been fouled on every play, and yet never commit a foul. There are few things more enjoyable in sports than seeing the Spurs fans angry.

* Tony Parker is amazing. His quickness is phenomenal, and the Mavs really don't have any answer. Barea in doses, but for the most part, he is going to get his. But, if you contest him at the rim a bit, you can at least make him sweat. Does he get the proper credit for his awesomeness in the West? Seems like CP3 and Deron Williams get most of the ink, and I wonder if Parker gets ignored a bit because he is not the new kid on the block. At 26, it seems like he has been in the NBA forever. Can you believe the Spurs wanted Kidd when he was a free agent over Parker?

* If you think Matt Bonner has a bag of nothing, what do you think Fabricio Oberto must think? He can't get off the bench because of Bonner. Insult of insults.

* Let's not sleep on Bruce Bowen. Sure he has limitations at this age, but he still makes Dirk mad. He still can defend Terry. And he still doesn't miss the 3 from the corner. I think he is a factor in this series, and the Spurs are still happy to have him around.

* Brandon Bass might have been the MVP of last night's game. Dirk gets his 3rd foul and the Mavs are doomed, right? Well, Bass comes into the game and starts scoring and scoring. You knew good things were happening when he banked one off the top of the backboard. He is athletic and hustles. He is energy and ability wrapped into one. Like Barea, you don't want to over-expose him, but in doses, he is very valuable. And like Barea, any team in the NBA could have had him for nothing. Donnie Nelson is not dominating on draft day like he once did, but let's not act like he still isn't a very solid personnel mind.

* By the way, the impossible happened last night. At 1:05 left in the 1st half, Tim Duncan admitted to a foul. Erick Dampier was fouled, and Duncan did not complain, he did not out-stretch his arms in disbelief. He simply raised his arm and accepted the possibility that he might have violated a rule. Sorry about me, Spurs fans.

* I know this is also pretty sorry of me, but once again, Dampier played very, very well. And that just made me mad. Why can't I just enjoy it when he plays well? Why does it have to make me mad when I wonder why he doesn't act like he cares a bit more often? Seriously, the Mavs don't win without Damp playing strong and tough in the paint. Good work, big Damp.

* It was written that we would only know the true wisdom of the coaching change if Rick Carlisle gets it done in the playoffs. Well, so far so good. He is 1-0 on the road in the playoffs, snapping Avery's 9 game road losing streak. Let's not rest on those laurels.

Not sure I would expect any more wins in this series if Terry and Nowitzki are going to play such an average game, but it is surely a nice bonus. They needed a split in the first two in San Antonio, and they got one. Now, you must get greedy. Make them mad. Depress them. Demoralize them. With a win on Monday night, the Spurs will be up for a long, tough series. With a loss, they will start rationalizing how nice it will be to get Duncan a long summer of rest and get Manu healthy. I know I am really pushing my luck here, but I think the Mavs need to pounce while they are vulnerable.

Monday Night, Game 2 awaits. Where Amazing is showing a sign of happening.

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