Friday, April 22, 2011
When a trend encompasses 19 games, it is rather difficult to avoid jumping to certain conclusions about what exactly that trend is trying to tell us. Especially when it strikes again in Game 3 in Portland - a game that should warn us that chances seem rather right that this series will require just about all of its 7 games to fully sort out.
The biggest question about this Mavericks team as a whole is "can they win a playoff game in hostile environments?" I am guessing you require no reminding, but this Mavericks franchise has now dropped 17 of its last 19 games in the post-season away from Dallas. That seems extra perplexing given that they are the NBA's finest road team for the last two seasons in the regular season.
2-17? That is an unfair number to throw at some of the guys on this team. For instance, Tyson Chandler was playing his very 1st playoff road game last night. But, you could make the case that he fit in quite easily with the normal Mavs' playoff road game routine. For it was Chandler that was picking up fouls at a dizzying pace, many of them of the extremely ticky-tack variety, and almost did not play enough to work up a sweat.
But, if you were to quickly review those 19 games in your memory - starting in Miami in Game 3 of the NBA Finals through last night - how many times would the referees be top-of-mind? How many times would we look at inexcusable self-inflicted wounds? Last night it was 10 missed free throws in a 5 point game and enough unforced turnovers to last you the whole series.
These are the recipe for a road loss. There will be very little complaints about the resolve of the Mavericks in Game 3. The battle seemed to be there throughout and there were some very nice efforts from the guys the Mavs count on the most.
But, in the end, a center who cannot play because of fouls, a team being careless with the basketball, and everyone missing charity shots at a very disturbing pace all combine to conspire to take you down in defeat. It is not a particularly painful or humiliating loss because of some of the positives that we saw, but it should add to the now 19-game trend that suggests that roughly 90% of the time in the last 5 years, the Mavericks will lose on the road during the playoffs.
And with a very quick turnaround for Game 4 (4:00 Saturday) there is little time to allow this momentum to continue to build for Portland. A win on Saturday for the Blazers would obviously rock this series and the Mavericks would then be clinging to the hope that they can go 4 for 4 on home court.
Other observations from the Game 3 loss:
* Clearly, the Brandon Roy story is plenty notable around the league because there are few guys in the NBA who are as well liked and sympathized with as Roy. His double knee surgery odyssey is disappointing to anyone who follows the league given his very young age and special talents. But, what a series-changer he can be if they can count on him for anything close to the 16-points he game them in Thursday in just 23 minutes. The Blazers in Dallas really lacked any perimeter consistency, but on a night where Roy gave them that, Wesley Matthews also dropped in 25 - most from very distant ranges. Obviously, all of the perimeter success for the Blazers is complimented with big men crashing the glass and getting some solid points in the paint, too. When it is working, the Portland offense can be rather impressive. But, if you take away Roy and Matthews isn't hitting shots, then you sag on LaMarcus Aldridge and feel like the Blazers struggle to score when it matters.
* I would really have to wonder about Rick Carlisle's personnel selection in the 4th Quarter. For a long time, I have been an advocate of JJ Barea's contributions to this team and most notably this offense. But, I always stress that I enjoy his work in proper doses. I don't feel like doses were employed when it mattered in Game 3. The Mavericks thought "small ball" would work in the 4th. When Barea checked in late in the 3rd, the Mavericks had a 69-68 lead. 5 minutes later they trail by 13, but Carlisle is still running out the Kidd-Terry-Barea trio with Dirk and Brendan Haywood instead of considering any of the following: Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, or Deshawn Stevenson. I will concede that all 3 of those choices have their limitations, too, but none of them are 5'10 in a game where it seems Portland is attacking JJ. They seemed too small as a squad and not defensive enough, and much of that seems solved if you do roll in one of those wing choices over the diminutive Barea. And yet, Carlisle did not budge down the stretch playing Barea for the final 13 1/2 minutes straight (save for the final 10 seconds of the game).
* This should have been mentioned last game, I admit, but watching Haywood attempt free throws is painful. If I am Portland, that seems like a wonderful way to stress the Mavericks if Chandler returns to foul trouble. Haywood would be fouled rather quickly in my book because he has less than no confidence at the line. He is making Shaquille O'Neal look dependable.
* Jason Kidd's performance last night was more similar to his season than either Games 1 or 2. Many nights, Kidd has moments where he is very strong and moments where his performance isn't where it once was. I thought in Game 3 he started very slowly and his passes had a tendency to be tipped quite often early. As the night went on, he did get better and better, but 5 turnovers is too much, and 3 assists are not enough. Kidd surely seems to be the key for the Mavericks in the first trio of games.
* I will readily admit that my grasp of the end of NBA benches is not where it should be. But, I am willing to also admit that I had no idea who Chris Johnson was until last night. But, to have a 6'11 player at the end of your bench who can then enter the game for the first time in the series and start blocking shots and grabbing rebounds is quite a nice luxury. The rookie from LSU showed that he can make an impact in short amounts of time. I think we can agree Portland has a template of the players they are looking for: Aldridge, Batum, Camby, and this Johnson kid all seem to fit the profile of athletic big man who is slender and can get off of the ground.
* I have often used this cliche for the Mavericks: "Live by the 3, die by the 3". It is really intoxicating to see Jet come of a screen and nail a cold-blooded 3. Kidd and Dirk also hit magical 3s last night. Peja nailed another one, too. But, you just can't help yourself sometimes. If it works, you want to keep doing it and start actively searching for 3s. You hit a few and that becomes the focus of your offense. 22 3-point attempts (9 conversions) becomes too large a part of your offense. Remember, they talked early in the series about how Portland plays games with one of the fewest possession totals in the league. It is a slow game. If 22 of your possessions are ending in jacking up a 23-footer, you are making your team easy to guard. Yes, you will make some and it will feel good. But, if we have seen a mountain of evidence, it is that the Mavericks on the road become more dependent on this long shot without a proper balance as the game gets going. That results in never getting the opponent in foul trouble and if the shots don't fall - you lose. Some will justify it by saying they can make them. And they can. Others will justify it by saying they don't get calls in the paint. Whatever the reason, if your strategy has put you on a 2-17 run, I think we should all ask if it is actually a bad thing when the Mavericks have converted a bunch of 3s early in a game.
* It looks like Portland is trying to throw the kitchen sink at Dirk. Nick Batum had a few nice possessions defensively in the 3rd Quarter, but that is a swarm of switches and different bodies taking turns. You have to love his fight in this series and you also have to love that Portland, despite all of those bodies, don't seem to be able to slow him down. And with Jason Terry's vintage effort, there is reason to believe that the Mavericks can get one of these final 2 games in Portland in the series. Terry looked like he had great confidence from the first time he checked into the contest.
* The Wesley Matthews story is quite interesting to me - partly because I am sad to say I am old enough that I watched his dad play at the University of Wisconsin when I was in grade school. He opted for Marquette University instead of Madison, and then was undrafted 2 drafts ago. After showing his stuff in the summer league, he made the Utah Jazz roster and quickly rose through the ranks there. But, last summer was snagged with a 5 year/$34 million dollar offer sheet from Portland, who was no doubt shopping because of the health situation of Brandon Roy. So, in less than 12 months, he goes from undrafted free agent to a guy with $34 million. Meanwhile, Blake Griffin, the #1 pick of that draft is entering the final year of his 3 year-$16 million deal. And that is why they say sometimes it is better not to be drafted. What a shooting performance to start the game for Matthews.
* In the end, you can kick it half-full or half-empty. The Mavericks did all of those things wrong and only lost by 5. Or, the Mavericks did all of those things wrong and lost another road game in the playoffs - Again. At some point, they have to prove they can win at the Rose Garden or they will risk playing a dangerous team in a 1-game situation in a Game 7.
Saturday will be quite revealing. If the Mavs win, they can close it out Monday in Game 5. If they lose, we have another full week of trying to figure out how to get out of Round 1.