Sunday, April 24, 2011
Can you believe that Game 4?
Sadly, chances are you can.
I have several Mavs' fans who get very angry at me when I group the Mavericks fortunes together from the last 5 years. They tell me that there are too many new players, a new coach, and each team is independently their own. Therefore, to think about the 2006 NBA Finals or the 2007 Golden State series when attempting to put a 2011 playoff game in its proper perspective is just not right and frankly unfair.
Well, as Dad said to me, sometimes life isn't fair.
You see, after watching a Game 4 collapse for the ages in Portland yesterday, it became clear once again; this team and everyone surrounding this team (yes, you the fans) drags so much emotional baggage behind them that it isn't even funny. And just when you think that Lucy is not going to pull the ball away from Charlie Brown...she does it again.
Game 4 will be forever remembered as the miraculous performance of Brandon Roy. And why wouldn't it? This was right off a script as he was completely non-existent in Games 1 and 2 in Dallas. Then, complains that he is not being shown the proper respect from his coach. Then, when people are wondering what sort of selfish diva complains about his personal situation when his team is down 2-0, he basically puts them on his back as they climb all the way back from a 23-point deficit in a -more-than-pivotal-Game 4.
The Mavericks could not stop him as he was absolutely playing out of his mind. Shawn Marion, with a rather significant length advantage, is known for his ability to defend. But when he was isolated 1-on-1 against Roy continuously down the stretch, it seemed rather clear that Marion had no answers for the questions Roy was asking. Roy went 8-10 in the 4th Quarter and outscored Dallas in the final Quarter by himself, 18-15.
And on the other end of the court, there were no answers found, either. The offense went into its sometimes-familiar posture of taking high-degree-of-difficulty heaves with the shot clock expiring that we see in the playoffs.
You see, that wasn't just Portland. That was Miami, Golden State, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Denver. And that wasn't just Brandon Roy. That was Baron Davis and Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker.
You just cannot convince me otherwise. The biggest enemy of the Mavs is that feeling they have inside each and every one of them when the game starts slipping a bit. That familiar and haunting feeling. And they cannot defeat it.
Here we go again.
And that is why it is so easy to tie years and years of damage into one quarter of basketball played on April 23, 2011. Because it is all related. Every last second of it.
Maybe only Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Mark Cuban have seen all of it. But, the rest have seen enough to understand what the reputation is. And so far, it sure doesn't appear that changing the mix has been able to erase the substantial burden that they all seem to carry with them.
Their biggest foe is their memory.
And I am starting to wonder if there is a cure.
How else can we explain what happened on Saturday? How does a team - known by their own fans as damaged and susceptible to such collapses - allow a 23 point lead to drift away in such a short amount of time? How do they put the game on auto-pilot knowing that they are the same team to have the biggest list of collapses of anyone in the entire league?
Did you know that they were allowed to work the ball into the paint? They were outscored 18-0 in the paint in the 4th Quarter and attempted just 2 shots. Portland? 9-9.
Did they know they were allowed to get Dirk the ball? Because in the final 2 minutes and change, they did not.
Did they know they were allowed to double team Brandon Roy or perhaps to even call a zone defense? Evidently, not.
This is a team that is defined by its history. And unlike some teams who may have a damaged history, they are haunted by it. It affects their ability to function. It whispers in their ear when they are sitting in a time-out.
Doubt creeps in and paralyzes them.
Part of me is shocked and part of me wonders how anyone can be shocked.
Other thoughts and observations:
* What is most crushing about the performance is how wonderful everything was going until the momentum changed. The Mavericks were playing a perfect road game that was about to put a strangle-hold on their opponent. They were playing particularly strong defense and were frustrating the Trailblazers in front of their adoring fans. They were really making sure that nothing came easy for Portland, and therefore, it was the Blazers who were coming unglued. We all know once the worm turned that things went very badly in short order, but somehow, the Mavericks were ahead 67-44 in the Rose Garden and you could hear a pin drop. That should be some source of encouragement. All things being equal, this is a better basketball team than Portland. But, all things aren't equal. Portland is not carrying around a burden that could sink an aircraft carrier.
* Tyson Chandler is an exceptional player who plays with every amount of emotion and intensity that you would dream of. I have no concerns about his effort dropping after he gets paid. He loves the game and has pride in his performance. I am not sure what to say about his consistent foul trouble in these 2 games because I don't feel he is playing recklessly for the most part. However, he did pick up his 2nd foul yesterday by bodying up on LaMarcus Aldridge outside the 3-point line. A player with only 1 foul at the half can turn up his intensity from time to time, but the way they are calling everything on Tyson it seems, he better not assume he has a foul cushion to enjoy. It is clear they are looking for him and protecting Aldridge, so it is up to Tyson to adjust accordingly.
* Is it just me or does it feel the Mavs trail this series, 2-2? It is clear that the home team has won every game and therefore the Mavericks should still be in the driver's seat. And most times that would be true. Just like most times you have an eight point lead with under 3 minutes to play you win.
* Yes, I feel Portland received the benefit of the doubt on every call. But, to blame that is the same trap as blaming the coach of the Mavericks for every stumble. Yes, the refs did not help the Mavs. And, yes, the coaching certainly doesn't seem to help the Mavs, either, when they need it the most. But, at what point does somebody stand up and make a play? If we continue to blame those who are not touching the ball, we continue to miss the true point to all of these failures in this 2-18 road stretch in the playoffs. Not enough composed play and not enough will power to beat any opponent in their gym. And I refuse to lay that at the feet of some imagined league-wide conspiracy to keep Mark Cuban down.
* 0 Free throws for the Mavericks in the 1st Half, lest we think that everything was fine before the 4th Quarter.
* Maybe the most disappointing performance of those last few moments was from the normally composed Jason Kidd. You see, looking back at the Josh Howard and Erick Dampier era, it always seemed that there were too many players around Dirk who lacked the skills required for crunch time. Here is a perfect example why Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd are the perfect ensemble to join Dirk and Terry at crunch time, right? And then Kidd has the ball taken from him at half court by Wesley Matthews and then is left open for a wide open 23 footer that he launches about 26 feet. It is very difficult to be negative with Kidd, because we all know how good he has been at times, but he was the type of guy that is capable of handling these moments so much better.
* You just cannot foul Roy on a 3-pointer. A 4-point play that brought the roof off the Rose Garden was the climax of the battle. Again, like many of the calls, it looked like it was marginal at best, but another case of things snowballing as they roll down the mountain. And there was no stopping the force by then.
* Of course, on a morning like this, it is time for all of the "I told you so" types on Dirk. He didn't touch the ball in the final 2 minutes of the game. Was that his fault? Twice he was running a high pick and roll with Terry and with Kidd. Both times, the player with the ball gunned a 3-pt shot without passing to Dirk. Both times, Portland was, of course, shading on Dirk. If you are Portland, don't you want Terry taking a contested 25 footer? Wouldn't you want Kidd taking a 3? Both times, the veteran guards of the Mavs took shots that they thought they would make instead of passing the ball to Dirk. Is that Dirk's fault? Many of you will promise me it is. And, honestly, all these years do have #41 in common. But, after watching him step up game after game, and year after year, I am not willing to join the dog-pile. This city is obsessed with blaming the QB if the game doesn't go right - regardless of who is really to blame, and I believe the football mentality sends everyone to look at Dirk, no matter how many times Kidd or Terry believe they can handle the moment just as well.
* Is there any chance when they were walking off the plane after in landed in Portland before Game 3 that anyone on the Dallas side thought they would feel "lucky" to play a game 7?
But, that is what is in front of them now. They are in a spot where everyone on the basketball planet is expecting them to lose Game 5 and be done in Game 6. Even the most loyal Mavs' fan seems to fear Monday night. Gut check? The biggest one yet. If they win Game 5, they can still salvage this series and what is left of their tattered reputation. But, nobody on the outside of the organization expects that.
Here is the big question: Does anyone on the inside?