Sunday, May 6, 2007

We Know Drama

One thing you can say about the Dirk-era Mavs: they have yet to give us a dull playoff season. And frankly, this year lived up to past standards––as awful as the losses were, the Mavericks’ two wins against the Warriors both had a surreal kind of feel that I suspect most teams’ fans don’t get to enjoy on an annual basis.

Either way, here’s my year-by-year run-down of why, win or lose, I love watching Dallas Mavericks playoff basketball.


2001

Dallas––with Dirk, Nash, and Finley––made the playoffs for the first time since ’89-’90. In the first round (a 5-game series), Dallas lost the first two in Utah, but then they turned around and won the next three in a row. In game 5, Dallas overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter lead and took their first lead of the second half on a Calvin Booth layup with 9.8 seconds in the game. I saw this one in a friend’s dorm room in Edwards Hall in Abilene (Binkley, your room, right?), and it was glorious.

In the second round, the thoroughly outmatched Mavericks fell to the Spurs, 4-1. Best moment: in game 4 (with Dallas on the verge of getting swept), Dirk got his front tooth knocked out by a Terry Porter elbow with 4:52 left in the game. He ran directly to the locker room, shoved some gauze in his mouth, and was back on the court after 33 seconds of clock time. Dirk finished with 30 and 9, and Mavericks took the game, 112-108, their only win of the series. The Spurs finished off Dallas in game 5, but not until Dirk had gone for 42 points (14/24 FG, 14/18 FT), 18 rebounds, and 6 steals; Finley shot 1/17 in the blowout loss.

The Mavericks finished the playoff season with a record of 4–1 when facing elimination, 0–5 otherwise.


2002

Dallas swept Minnesota in the first round, only to fall to the top-seeded Kings 4–1 in the second.

Although the Kings series was lop-sided, it was also a showdown between the top two scoring teams in the NBA, and it was a blast to watch. The Mavericks let the Kings get layup after layup, but they almost made up for it with their own offensive barrage. The Kings averaged 112.8 points for the series, the Mavericks 106.8. I watched this series in PTS Hodge Hall, during finals week, with a die-hard Kings fan.

After the series, Mark Cuban announced a new commitment to team defense. Let’s say they had marginal success.


2003

The 3rd-seed Mavericks jumped out to a 3–0 series lead against Portland, only to have the Blazers come back with 3 wins in a row to force game 7. In game 6, the Mavericks’ starting frontcourt of Nowitzki, Bradley, and LaFrentz combined for––I’m not kidding here––13 points and 2 rebounds (both by LaFrentz). In protest, I refused to watch game 7, although I did cave in and watch the last couple of minutes.

In the second round, after losing game 1 ugly to the Kings, the Mavericks bounced back with two of the most astonishing offensive performances I have seen. In game 2, after falling behind 20-10 just 3.5 minutes into the first quarter, Dallas went berserk, outscoring Sacramento 34-20 to end the first quarter leading 44-40. By the end of the half, Dallas had scored an absurd 83 points, and they went on to win in a rout. Nick Van Exel shot 14/19 for 36 points and 6 assists, and Chris Webber injured his knee for the Kings, missing the rest of the series.

Game 3 also went to the Mavericks, this time 141-137 in double overtime. Van Exel went for 40 points and 7 assists, Nash for 31 points and 11 assists, and Dirk for 25 points and 20 rebounds. Dallas eventually took the series in 7 games, with Dirk getting credit for stepping up big in the series clincher. I was in California at the time to see a friend get married, and I watched game 7 in an empty dining room on a college campus.

This brought up the Mavericks’ first appearance in the Western Conference Finals since 1988, facing the Spurs. In game 1, Dallas trailed by 13 at the end of the first quarter, but they ended up rallying, in part by hitting their last 49 free throws of the game. The Spurs shot 48 themselves (missing 17), so it wasn’t exactly lopsided officiating. However, several of the Spurs’ free throws came as a result of Don Nelson’s Hack-a-Bowen strategy, in which he put scrubs into the game to foul Bowen (a horrible free throw shooter) away from the ball and disrupt San Antonio’s offense. It was embarrassing, but Dallas closed the game on a 24–9 run, and Dirk finished with 38 points and 15 rebounds (Duncan had 40 and 15).

In game 3 against San Antonio, Dallas lost Nowitzki to a knee injury that would sideline him for the rest of the series. Then in game 5, Dallas (trailing the series 3–1) rallied from a 19-point deficit to force a game 6 by outscoring the Spurs in the fourth quarter, 29–10. I watched this with my best friend in the student center at his medical school; with 1:32 left, Dallas had a 13-point lead, and I was still sure they would lose. It’s nice sometimes when expectations get overturned.

In game 6 at home, Dallas opened the fourth quarter with a 69–56 lead. Unforuntately, they proceeded to go from the 10:52 mark to the 2:50 mark (more than eight minutes) without scoring. In the middle of the quarter, Stephen Jackson––yeah, that Stephen Jackson––made back-to-back 3-pointers, and then a couple of minutes later Steve Kerr hit three more of them in four possessions to give the Spurs an 8-point lead. Fortunately, I got to watch this one with good friends at my parents’ house in Texas. Season over.


2004

Despite having reached the Western Conference Finals, and even then losing only after Dirk went down with an injury, in the off-season the Mavericks opted for a big shakeup, trading for Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison.

The group never quite gelled, and Dallas only won 52 after winning 60 the previous season. In the first round they drew Sacramento, losing 4–1 despite (oddly) outscoring the Kings for the series. The Mavericks’ last three losses were notable in that they each came down to a final possession, and Don Nelson called the play for a different one of the “big three” each time. In game 2, Finley got stripped by Peja Stojakovic while trying to take a tying shot with 11 seconds left. Then in game 4, Nash missed a fall-away at the buzzer that could have sent the game into overtime. And finally, in game 5 Dirk got a good look, with a chance to win at the buzzer, but he missed off the front of the rim.

As discouraging as it was to lose 4-1 after going the western conference finals the year before, these were close games, and the series was good basketball. Marquis Daniels had a nice series, but more importantly the early playoff exit convinced management of the need to get rid of Antoine Walker. Jason Knott and I caught most of this series in the basement of PTS Alexander Hall.


2005

That off-season, the Suns offered Nash the monster contract (which he, of course, took), and the Mavericks made a number of roster changes, somehow turning Antoine Walker into Jason Terry, and Antawn Jamison into Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris.

Dallas finished the year 58–24, but because of division realignment they opened the post-season as the 4-seed, facing the 5-seed Rockets. Infuriating as always, Dallas lost the first two games at home to Tracy McGrady’s Rockets, the second one on a long 2-pointer by McGrady just before the buzzer. However, the Mavericks turned around and won the next two in Houston, taking back home court advantage. The home team then won the last three games, with Dallas taking game 7 by an astonishing 40 points, the most lop-sided game 7 in NBA history. Dirk struggled a lot for the series, but Jason Terry stepped up, having a pair of 30-point games to help the Mavericks save the series

In the second round, Dallas drew Phoenix. The Mavericks got ripped to shreds repeatedly by first-time MVP Nash and Amare Stoudemire, as Amare had games of 40, 37, 33, and 30 points, and Nash had games of 48, 39, and 34. In game 6, Dallas led by 16 late in the third quarter, but the Suns quickly got back into the game, tying it early in the fourth. Dallas had a 3-point lead with just 11 seconds left, but Nash hit a wide open 3-pointer to force overtime, and Phoenix took the series.

Somewhere in the midst of this, the wheels came off, with Dirk yelling at Terry and a lot of fans in Dallas very very unhappy. I watched the game alone in the basement of a dorm (not mine) in New Jersey. That was a long night.


2006

This one is still fresh enough in memory that a quick review should be enough. First round was a sweep of Memphis. Second round was perhaps the best 2nd-round playoff series our generation has watched, with three games decided by a total of 4 points, and two other games going into overtime. The western conference finals saw Dallas turning a 2–2 series tie into a 4–2 victory for the Mavericks after Dirk’s 50-point outburst in game 5 at home, followed by a come-from-behind road win in game 6.

After game 6, Marc Stein wrote:
Dirk Nowitzki has answered all the questions. He has hushed every doubt about his playoff toughness, his fourth-quarter clutchness and whether he's sufficiently ruthless to beat his best friend for a spot in the NBA Finals.

All of which means Nowitzki can finally and definitively respond to the question he hears more than any other.
And then in Finals, Dwyane Wade pulled off one of the most remarkable performances in NBA history and won 4 games in a row to turn on 0–2 series deficit into an NBA title in 6 games. In those four wins, Wade averaged 39.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists to take the MVP.

Special thanks to Justin Burton (a Lakers fan) for watching game 5 with me at his house in New Brunswick, NJ, and to James Foster (a Tennessean but an adopted Mavericks fan) for showing up at my place in his Nowitzki jersey for the rest of the series. Also to Josh Ziefle for buying a high-def TV in the middle of the playoffs.

I lost sleep for two weeks after the finals ended (mostly anger because of the officiating), but what a great run.


2007

Holy crap. Polite words can’t describe what this one was like, but it had its moments, and there certainly aren’t any Mavericks fans who will forget it anytime soon. The Nowitzki question is officially re-opened. And Baron Davis had better put up a good showing against Utah in the second round, or I don’t know how I’ll function.

I watched most of this one alone in my living room in Boston, probably without any other Mavericks fans within blocks. My housemates were dutifully supportive, but the best night was game 5, when my friend Kevin Wells stayed up late with me to see the Mavs’ last win.

I don’t know if I’m going to be following next year’s regular season or not. But for crying out loud, bring on the playoffs. Good or bad, Dirk seems to be incapable of giving us anything but insanity, and that’s reason enough to keep watching.

9 comments:

ryan b said...

I completely forgot that I watched that Utah game with you! Man, I miss those days. We were just excited that the Mavs made the playoffs. Our innocence is gone forever now. We'll never get back to having that low of expectaions, will we? (We won't right? PLEASE TELL ME WE WON'T!)

JKnott said...

Never a dull moment for Mavs fans. If you think about it, what happened this year was the LEAST "dull" or expected thing that could have happened. Bring on next year!

Connor said...

Oh yes, I remember watching the 2001 Utah game 5 in McKenzie Hall in Abilene. We pretty much went crazy at the end, running down the halls and the like.

JKnott said...

Scott,

Remember when we went to watch one of the games in the Portland series, perhaps it was at an Applebee's, and some drunk guy there was constantly yelling, "Why are they showing the Portland/Dallas game? This is New Jersey!" And of course Dallas was stinking it up that game, so that made it even harder to stomach. Oh, the things we fans have been through.

scoots said...

Yeah that was a bad night, other than getting to watch it with another fan.

So I'm trying to tally how many different places I've watched Mavericks' playoff games now. Certainly in 4 different states.

I can specifically remember watching games in 3 different places in Texas (my parents' house, one dorm room, and one med school), 10 different places in NJ (including 2 dorm rooms, 2 dorm basements, 4 friends' apartments, one Appleby's bar, and of course my living room), and just one place in Boston (my living room).

Sounds like at least 14 different places (and probably more like 16-17). Not bad for, what, 85 games?

scoots said...

Hmm, one quarter down in the Warriors-Jazz series, and Utah is up 37–35. If they keep that pace, I’m thinking the Jazz are in a lot of trouble.

JKnott said...

Talk about a "beard gap." Williams' beard is worse than Dirk's, and Williams NEEDS a beard to offset that weak chin of his.

scoots said...

The third quarter isn't over in Phoenix (game 2), and Duncan already has 27 points, and Nash already has 12 assists. Sounds like good basketball––wish I had time to watch it.

Did anyone get to watch the bloody nose episode the other night? I bet that was fantastic.

scoots said...

Well, maybe not such good basketball. Right now (mid 4th quarter) Duncan is shooting 63.2%, the rest of the Spurs 35.4%. That won't get it done against Phoenix.