Thursday, May 14, 2009

Game 4: Mavs 119, Nuggets 117 (3-1, Denver)

Game 4 notes and observations...

For the second consecutive home game, it was 48 minutes of high tension playoff basketball for the Dallas Mavericks. And, for the second consecutive home game, it came down to the final 30 seconds. And while it was not with any degree of ease, the Mavericks figured out a way to close the deal, get a win, and extend their 2008-09 season for at least another 48 hours and another flight to Denver, Colorado for game 5 on Wednesday.

It was a game that was impossible to feel good about until the very end. The Mavericks could never reel in the Nuggets for the entire game. In fact, for what must have been a dozen times, the Mavs would mount a surge only to be pounded over the head with an answer for Denver. Make no mistake, Denver was trying to drive a dagger. They were ready to relax and let Houston and the Lakers fight it out. But, in a game where it would have been easy to tap out and quit, the Mavs showed some real fight and determination not to let their season end in front of the home fans.

Is it delaying the inevitable? Almost certainly. But, is there ever a bad reason to fight and show pride? I can't think of one in the playoffs.

And then there is Dirk Nowitzki. I call him this city's most underappreciated athlete ever for a reason. Why? Because, he can play like he has played for the last 4 games: 32 points per game, 11.7 rebounds per game - and then be insulted by many in his own city for not having the guts or the grit to compete hard enough in the NBA. Honestly, if you have not seen him fight in this series, then you are too far gone off your pier for reason to help you now. He has abused Kenyon Martin so much that even Kenyon looks worried when Dirk gets the ball in the post. He has not made every shot and he has not been joined often enough by his mates, but if you question his level of compete after all of this then your opinion will never change. I hope someday he gets what he wants so badly. But, real life doesn't always end like fairy tales.

Anyway, a nice win and an exhausting night of basketball complete with all sorts of side stories. Let's run through some random observations from Game 4 in Dallas:

* Carmelo Anthony was absolutely amazing. I have been waiting for him to break out in the spring time since the spring of 2003 when I first saw him in person at the Final Four in New Orleans. That year he carried Syracuse to the NCAA Title as a freshman and sold me on his future. Since then, the reviews have been mixed, as I believe on some level he felt the need to defer during the Allen Iverson era. But now, on display in Games 3 and 4 in Dallas, he seems to be willing to take over games at will - and while he may never truly be a foil for Lebron James as was sold to the public back when they both were coming into the league, he truly belongs in the elite conversation. Anthony is surrounded by muscle, but he sure sets the tone for his team with his aggresive play on both ends of the court. He also seems to feed off physical confrontation and is a very interesting player. I think he is one of those players who follows the tone rather than sets it (Iverson, Billups), but he is special. No doubt about that at all.

* Question for Steve Javie: What part of Carmelo's forearm in Antoine Wright's neck constitutes a foul on Wright? And then, with great Javie flair, he awards Wright a technical for the debate! I love it. I love how the officials never allow the game to get in their way.

* While it is true that Dahntay Jones rarely scores (27 points in 4 games), his two dunks this weekend will be long remembered. I think I will still suggest that the dunk in Game 3 over Dampier was the best, we should give his Game 4 dunk on Josh Howard a good amount of consideration as well.

* From the post-game press notes: Dirk Nowitzki recorded his 5th career playoff game with 40 points. He finished tonight with 44 points (14-25 FGs, postseason-highs 16-17 FTs) and 13 rebounds (12 DR) in 44 minutes. The double-double is his 4th of the postseason and 2nd consecutive. Nowitzki scored 29 points in the 2nd half for his 2nd 20-point half of the postseason (also 21 in 1st half of Game 3 vs. DEN, 5/9). Nowitzki’s game is the 3rd-best individual performance by a Maverick in a playoff history. Nowitzki had previously scored 50 points (vs. PHO, 6/1/06) and 46 points (vs. POR, 4/19/03).

* Another very frustrating night from Erick Dampier. It would seem that Rick Carlisle is growing tired of the "contribution" from his center. 23 minutes. 0 points. 5 turnovers. 6 fouls. There was one moment in the game where the Mavs were making their run, down 72-67. Jason Terry dropped a pass down to Dampier for a sure dunk, and then we saw his "Lafluer Hands" fumble the ball through traffic and to Denver. David "LaFluer Hands", a term given by my boy, Benisanna, is a most fitting description of his paws that keeps him from ever being more than a big body. How Dampier fits in the Mavs future is anyone's guess. I have honestly seen enough. Thanks, Avery.

* I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome JJ Barea to the series, and also, welcome Nene back to earth.

* Which Nugget annoys me the most? Interesting question. Anthony and Billups are quality who cannot annoy me. Nene is the center I have always wanted. Anthony Carter has never done anyone harm. Jones and Linas Kleiza are insignificant to me. So, I have boiled it down to a few candidates: Kenyon. But, with him, he has such little effect on the game in 2009 as Dirk abuses him on defense and yet besides the occasional hoop he really just runs around and looks tough. 33 minutes, 2 points and 2 rebounds? Eh. So, that leaves JR Smith. I wish I had another 1,000 words to elaborate but between his over-celebrating, his banked in shots, and his hanging on the rim for no reason I just can't deal with his game. Oh, and he is really good. He is what Jason Terry would be if Terry could defend, too.

* About the fans: I am quite uncertain of what really happened. But, if people were really getting personal with wives and girlfriends and mothers of Denver players, that is pretty weak. Have fun and make fun, but let's leave the women and children alone, ok? Nothing gives people beer muscles like a combination of beer and being surrounded by 20,000 friends, but c'mon. Let's show some level of class to the people not playing in the game. I am quite interested in a transcript of what Kenyon was saying as he was leaving the court. I was guessing he was shouting at Mark Cuban, but I am not sure. Regardless, he didn't look very pleased.

* I wonder what sort of upset stomach keeps you out of a playoff game? The Birdman's absence made a pretty big impact in the paint in Game 4. I must tell you I am interested in seeing what sort of deal he might seek this summer. MLE, anyone?

* Two players who had a tremendous impact on the game but have not been talked about much would include Josh Howard and Brandon Bass. Bass' play in Games 3 and 4 have made Dampier look even worse, because Bass appears to have a fight in his belly that doesn't quit. He puts out fabulous effort and when combined with his athleticism he offers all kind of fits in the paint for the Nuggets. Meanwhile, Josh has restored much of his reputation over these playoffs as he has also showed true grit. I am not sure what to make of either player moving forward, but I like the present contributions of both in a big way. I would love to see Josh get healthy and take his game to the next level, and I hope he will. As for Bass, I do wonder if he could fit into a bigger role, or is he just perfect as a bench player who brings energy?

* Actually, here is where Bass might make sense. With Dirk playing in the post as a "5", then Bass can be a "4". It is not exactly Gasol and Odom, but it makes quite a bit of sense against many teams. If Dampier cannot provide any reason for the opposition to guard him, and if he also brings almost no energy plays, then allowing the offense to run through Dirk on the post against guys who cannot guard him make the Mavs impossible to deal with without a double team. And, then, your shooters make them pay. Dirk as a 5 might be the future of this team. So, maybe a true defensive Power Forward is what this team really needs to allow the Mavs to "play small" even though they would have a 7-foot center. It all starts with Dirk being interested in banging around, but he banged for 44 last night and Denver had no clue what to do.

Game 5 is Wednesday. I would think Denver fans will be ready. In some ways, this reminds me of Red Wings-Stars from last spring where they won Game 4 to preserve pride and then won again in Detroit in unlikely fashion (of course, don't worry about Game 6). The smart money calls for a Nuggets blood-letting, but we might as well find out.

Basketball season lives for 48 more hours. Fight or Fold? The Mavs decided to fight.

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