Thursday, June 30, 2011

Fun Fact

The NBA names fifteen players to its three All-NBA teams (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) each year. This year exactly three teams had two players among those fifteen, and as it happens those players were all in the top ten.

The Mavericks played and beat all three of those teams in the playoffs:

OKC: Durant (1st team) and Westbrook (2nd team).
LAL: Kobe (1st team) and Gasol (2nd team).
Miami: LeBron (1st team) and Wade (2nd team).

Or another way to put it: of the nine All-NBA first- and second-teamers aside from Dirk, the Mavericks in this playoff run played and beat six of them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yes We Did

(Okay, so I have to figure this title for a blog post is going to be used 600 times in the next two days, but I’m riding with it anyway...)

I have to say, with the Mavericks winning the championship, it’s feels like a major anticlimax. My wife even commented that I didn’t giggle near the end of this game like I did in some of the other games of this series and earlier in the playoffs.

It’s true, and I think that’s because the best parts of a championship season are all the moments where you think you’re going to win it all, even though it hasn’t happened yet. Once the final moment comes, it’s really more of a relief––that the team didn’t blow such a great opportunity––than anything.

Lots of the press have commented recently, and I think they’re right, that we spend so much time discussing legacy and story and greatness and such while the games are happening, that there’s not much left to say once the season is over. We’ve spent the past two weeks obsessing over the possibility of the Mavericks reversing the 2006 Finals with poetic justice, and drooling over how Dirk can finally cement his place as an all-time great.

(I can’t resist a couple of stats to throw in: with the last two wins against the Heat, the Mavericks now have a winning record in the playoffs over the past 11 seasons, going 65-63. This playoff run also means they have now won more playoff series than they’ve lost over that span as well, going 13-10 in series. Not counting tonight’s game, Dirk has career playoff averages of 26.0 points (on 46.5% shooting) and 10.4 rebounds per game. But again, we already knew about Dirk’s numbers; the championship just means no one can say they’re empty numbers anymore.)

I’ll celebrate the championship, but what I hope I remember more is what it was like to watch all the games along the way: the relief of winning game 5 against the Blazers after blowing game 4, and JJ Barea hitting the and-one with Andrew Bynum’s flagrant foul in the sweep of the Lakers (see the website didthelakersgetswept.com), and laughing through Dirk’s absurd 12-for-15 shooting in game 1 against the Thunder, then watching with disbelief as the Mavericks erased a 15-point Thunder lead in game 4 of that series, and then watching in even greater disbelief as the Mavericks did the same thing to the Heat with the season practically on the line in game 2 of the Finals.

Forget espn classic, which I don’t watch anyway. We got to see the games live, and it was as much fun as you can really hope to have watching TV, plus we got to crash facebook after every game and celebrate with the community, even though my Mavs fan friends are all over the globe. When Dirk hit a big shot, this series, I was never surprised; when he kept missing during the first half tonight, I never worried about whether he would get his touch back. When he hit 10 points for the fourth quarter *again* tonight, it was just gravy. The missed shot at the end of game 3 was a genuine shock, and that says something about a player.

From here on, everything changes. Next year (if the season happens), we get to just enjoy what comes without all the angst and doubt. Unless the Mavericks can pull off another year like this, other teams will always have longer dynasties and more title banners. But that’s the great thing about a championship: this year is all that matters. For this year, Dirk was the best when the game was on the line. For this year, no deficit was too big to race back from. For this year, not a single team could blow the Mavericks out of a single playoff game. For this year, Terry was fearless (and money) when the biggest games were on the line. For this year, JJ Barea was a crunch-time contributor in the deciding game of the season. For this year, our team was better, and played better.

As my wife posted on facebook tonight, Thank God it’s finally over. I think we can all use a little rest.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On the Line

One of the great things about the playoffs is that you get to see how people play when their backs are to the wall.

One of the best places to see this is when a team is leading the series by a single game (1-0, 2-1, or 3-2), as opposed to when it's tied or when a team is leading by two or three games. The reason is, of course, that the outcome of the game leads to such a big difference: either the series will be tied, or else someone will have a two-game lead, which is tough to overcome.

Now of course, in a game 7 you get to see both teams with their backs against the wall, which is a lot of fun. But I think in games like the one tonight, with Miami leading 2-1, you get to find out something even more interesting abuot who these teams are. What I mean is, at least from a fan’s perspective, the game at 2-1 (like the games at 1-0 and 3-2) means more to the team who’s trailing in the series than it does to the team who’s winning.

A few years back I wrote a post about how the Mavericks under Dirk had won every game 7 (or game 5 in a five-game series) that they had played. (The same is still true today, since they haven’t played any games 7’s since I wrote that post.) That looks impressive, until you reflect that the *best* teams don’t have to play very many game 7’s, because they put away their opponents quickly. So most seasons, when the Mavericks are the better team, it still often takes them the full seven games to finish a series. When they’re the lesser team, they never stretch the series to the limit.

Now let’s go back to the 2-1 series. What we find out tonight is whether Miami is good enough to beat the Mavericks even when Dallas *has* to win the game, while Miami doesn’t. It’s more interesting than a game 7 because we don’t just see who’s better –– we see who wants it more. If Dallas can win big tonight, we’ll know they play well when they’re desperate. But if Miami can win big tonight, we’ll know they can keep their effort up even if they’re not desperate.

However, there’s a catch. If the game is close, luck comes into play. Dirk could have made that shot at the end of game 3, just like he could have missed his layup at the end of game 2. Wade could have hit his desperation heave at the end of game 2, or the refs could have called a phantom foul and given him three shots on the play. These things happen. In other words, this series could easily be 2-1 Dallas or 3-0 Miami, and some of it depends on luck.

So then there’s tonight. Dallas needs the win more, and we’re playing at home. And so I think you really can say, that if Miami beats us convincingly tonight, they’ll prove that they deserve to win the series –– and the resulting 3-1 lead will mean they surely will win the series.

Of course you hope for the blow-out win. It would mean that Miami can be beaten soundly, and not just on a fluke. You willingly settle for another close win (or three more close wins), because even a championship won with a little luck is still a real championship.

But if Dallas loses another close one tonight, it will be extremely hard to swallow as a fan, because it will feel like the series could have swung the other way so easily. If that happened, we would probably lose game 6 in a blowout, and it would look like Miami was simply a lot better, but I don’t think that would necessarily be the case. In a 3-1 series, at least from a fan’s perspective, the trailing team is likely to lose heart, which helps the leading team smell blood and play with more energy to finish them off.

So you worry about the close loss. Then it’s just more “what if” piled on the list with Dirk’s WCF knee injury in 2003, the 2006 Finals, and the Golden State upset. As Mavericks fans, we’ve had enough “what if.”

But what if we win tonight?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

All Over Again

Here’s what I wrote tonight during the fourth quarter after the Heat took their fifteen-point fourth-quarter lead. I titled it “All Over Again” because it felt like the loss to Miami in the Finals in 2006:

I think I’m finally convinced: Miami was better than we were in 2006, and they’re better than we are now. It is, after all, a sport, which means that things like speed and strength matter, they’re not incidental.

Why did we lose tonight? Every time we turned the ball over, Miami beat us down the floor for a dunk. When the Heat missed a shot, there were at least three times that Wade was already springing to the rim before he even knew if the shot was going in. At least a couple of times, he got rebound-dunks from it. Jason Terry has basically been shut down these two games, partly because the Heat defenders are taller than he is, and partly because they’re so fast in closing out on shooters that Terry has hardly gotten any open looks. Dirk definitely doesn’t shoot as well when defenders are physical with him. In the regular season, he gets foul calls a big chunk of the time. When the fouls aren’t coming, he still adjusts, be he isn’t as dominant.


So, uh, after the borderline-miraculous comeback and win tonight, I guess what I really meant by “All Over Again” was that it was just like the fifteen-point fourth quarter comeback against Oklahoma City last round. Yeah, that's what I meant.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rolling the Dice

Okay, so two different ways to tell the “story” of tonight’s game 1 Finals loss.

STORY #1

One is that we hung in there for the first half, but then the Heat shifted gears, buckled down, and put us away.

That’s definitely possible, but I think we could be a little misled by the big Lebron dunks that he put in once the game was mostly over and we were already playing desperate. I’m not saying I’m not worried about those plays, but I think it’s possible they would go down a bit differently if it were a two-point game instead of an eight-point game with a couple of minutes left.

STORY #2

Another way to view the game is that our bench has really been the difference throughout the playoffs, and that bench did not show up tonight. As in, 17 points on 4 of 22 (18%) shooting from Barea, Terry, and Peja.

Someone could point out that the Miami bench didn't play great either, shooting 8 of 22 (36.4%) for 27 points.

The difference is that our bench is a big part of how we got to the Finals. Despite Nowitzki’s brilliance through most of the playoffs so far, Barea, Terry, and occasionally Peja need to show up with big games for us to succeed against good teams. We have gambled by placing heavy stock in the ability of those guys –– especially Barea and Peja –– to make big plays and help us get wins. Now we risk paying the price for placing a lot of weight in players who may have been playing beyond their potential for awhile now.

We didn’t always close great against Portland and Oklahoma City, but we played well enough across the span of the whole game to win those series convincingly, and that overall play included nice contributions from the bench.

So for me, two big questions now are, is Barea really a rotation player for a contender, or just a guy who got hot for a couple of weeks? And, can Peja still hit big shots in big games, or have we already gotten out of him more than we bargained for?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

T.E.A.M. ... but I love Jason Kidd

My wife can attest that the two most common things I say during Mavericks games are “Kidd wants the ball” (whenever I seem him run down a loose ball) and “I love watching Jason Kidd play basketball.” I’m the proud owner of a commemorative opening night towel from Kidd’s first NBA game in November 1994, when he missed a triple-double by one rebound, I believe. My brother and I got cheap tickets in the upper deck end zone, and I’ve been in love with Kidd’s game ever since.

It still boggles my mind that the Mavericks let coach Jim Cleamons push to trade Kidd in 1997, and I was a big advocate of getting him back a couple of years ago, even if it did cost us Devin Harris.

Dirk is having a spectacular playoff run this year, but you could the Mavericks’ quality as a team summed up in their last offensive possession, when Jason Kidd came up with a tough offensive rebound after Dirk barely missed a 14-footer, then got the ball back to Dirk to force a Thunder foul and two free throws.

Kidd can’t really be called a star anymore, but he knows how to make winning plays. As much as I love watching Dirk shoot, Kidd’s play may be even more delightful. And in this particular series, he came up big over and over again.

In addition to the big offensive rebound to seal the game tonight, in game 4 Kidd also had the big three-pointer in overtime, plus a steal against Durant with four minutes left and the Mavericks trailing by four. Kidd just grabbed the ball and took it from him, and three seconds later Shawn Marion was scoring at the other end; in overtime, Durant did the same thing to Durant again, stealing the ball from him with a minute left and the game tied. This was actually the *third* time Kidd stripped Durant like that in a key possession in the series––the other one happen with 1:47 left in game 2. Add to that another big offensive rebound with 1:04 left in that game.

I don't know if the Mavericks will beat the Heat in the Finals, but this guy plays like a winner, and he deserves a title. He’s not an all-star anymore, but he plays the right way.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We’ll take it

Looking at the big picture, the outcome of tonight’s game 3 of Mavericks-Thunder doesn’t make very much sense. Dirk and Durant both shot horrible, Jason Terry didn’t have a good game for Dallas, and Russell Westbrook was dominant for the Thunder. Dirk had more turnovers (seven) than his combined rebounds-assists-steals-blocks. And the Mavericks still won on the road.

I suppose it comes down to this: if you shoot 37 percent from the field, including 1-17 three-pointers (which is what the Thunder did), you’re usually not going to win a playoff game.