“It’s not every day that you get to see an implosion.”
Completely disgusting. The Mavs have had embarrassing losses this season (on national TV, no less), but they hardly stack up to the horror that was Sunday’s game. If every member of the roster and coaching staff isn’t thoroughly mortified by their performance, I don’t even know where to begin.
It wasn’t the usual lackadaisical defense that put the Mavs in a hole early; the Mavs’ first quarter was one of their more dominant runs all season. This was unlike any loss I’ve seen all season from this team. The Mavs proved that they know every main road, street, path, and backwoods trail that leads to a terrible loss.
Let’s start from the beginning, if for no other purpose than that of contrast.
In the first quarter of the basketball contest between the Dallas Mavericks and the Cleveland Cavaliers on this fair Sunday morn, the Mavs stormed out the gates to a 10-point lead by the end of the first quarter, and a 15-point lead early in the second. Dirk had 8 points and 3 assists in the first alone. Dampier had 8 points and 5 rebounds, after blitzing the Cavs play after play on the screen-and-roll. Jason Kidd was utterly brilliant in setting up the offense, chipping in with 5 points of his own (2-2 FG) and 3 assists early. It seemed clear that the screen-and-roll would be an essential tool for Dallas all night long given Cleveland’s inability to shut it down. The shots were falling (46.8% FG) for the Mavs, and things couldn’t look brighter, especially considering just how difficult things were for the Cavs (26% FG). Credit the Mavs’ D, which was active, limiting, and lucky. They did their part in contributing to Cleveland’s poor shooting, but it didn’t hurt that the Cavs were missing very makeable shots by the slimmest of margins. Balls spun out of the hoop, rimmed out, and narrowly missed on attempt after attempt, and that coupled with great defensive rebounding and good job contesting on jumpshots might be enough to crush the confidence of lesser teams. But as we all know, this Cavs team could never be described as a lesser team.
The first, second, and third concerns for any team playing the Cavs is how to make LeBron James’ life difficult. In the first frame, the Mavs did just that. Jason Kidd actually drew LeBron as his “primary” defensive assignment to start the game, though LeBron was double-teamed practically on the catch. That meant a few forced shots and passing over the top, and on the whole the Cavs couldn’t take advantage. He still had big contributions in the first (5 assists, 4rebounds, 2 blocks), but was 0-3 from the field. Antoine Wright eventually slid over to cover LeBron, but the Mavs’ team defense seemed to be in slow motion on their rotations, doubles, and contests. It’s one thing to do that solely against a scorer; a scorer of LeBron’s skill simply cannot be stopped. But with James’ ability to establish his teammates and still find his own offense, the lack of effort defensively was magnified ten-fold.
The second quarter showed signs of the apocalypse, as the Mavs were outscored 27-19 but held on to a slim lead. The symptoms of the Mavs’ inevitable demise were in full view, though. The defense crumbled when the starters hit the bench, partially because Cleveland remembered how to play. On one side of the court, the ball moved to the open shooter, penetration came with ease, and the defenders looked utterly foolish. On the other, the over-reliance on jumpshots started to slide into the spotlight, and a squad with no offensive options really clicking was exposed by one of the league’s elite defenses.
The problem isn’t that the Mavs lost to the Cavs. The Cavs are a better team, and if the Mavs did sneak out of Cleveland with a win, it would’ve been a shocker. The real issue is that the team showed no sense of dignity, and no real desire to compete in the second half. No one is absolved from blame. The Cavs give Dirk trouble, but that doesn’t excuse his mailed-in effort. Jason Terry needs to find ways to contribute meaningfully when his shot isn’t falling, because his defense was miserable. Jason Kidd started off strong, but our primary play-caller refused to capitalize on the basics in the second half, and let the offense devolve into a jumpshooting frenzy. Rick Carlisle and the entire coaching staff should be held responsible for how lazy and uninterested the Mavs looked on the defensive end. At this point in the season, they should really know which buttons to press, and the fact that they still have trouble keeping this team motivated is troubling.
The Mavs allowed Mo Williams and Joe Smith to blitz them, and fully volunteered themselves for complete dissection and dismemberment by the hands of the Cavs. Cleveland sliced and diced Dallas in every conceivable way, and not much remains other than a bloody pulp, assorted skeletals, and dust where a proud team used to be.