“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
-Leonardo da Vinci
The Mavs are going to win the NBA title this year.
Okay, not really, but back-to-back road wins over solid Western Conference teams is a welcome contrast to the Mavs’ recent road woes. They walked into the Rose Garden, took everything they wanted on the offensive end, put together a solid defensive performance, and showed tremendous testicular fortitude as they vanquished the Blazers (who the Mavs have beaten all three times this season) and what remained of their inner demons.
Part of me wants to cheapen this win. The voice in my head is telling me “Well pffft, any team can win if they make their jumpshots and play half-decent defense.” This is entirely true, and the Mavs haven’t had much trouble winning when they actually do those two things. Unfortunately, the defense tends to come and go with the shooting. But you know what? This one counts, and it counts big. The Mavs weren’t killing the Blazers’ playoff chances like they did to the Suns the night before, but they also implode when faced with adversity and low expectations. Myself and countless others hoped for a win in Portland, but generally resigned ourselves to the fact that the Mavs might go out and lay an egg. It was the second night of a back-to-back, they played an awfully good Portland team that has been ridiculously good at home lately, and when the Blazers offered some resistance in the second half, the Mavs had every reason to fold. They were on tired legs, and again, no one was scoring outside of Dirk and Terry. But they stood their ground, and as a team the Mavs came up huge. Dirk and and JET took and made all the big shots, but the impact of players like Erick Dampier, Antoine Wright, and whoever invented the zone defense cannot be discounted.
So much of what the Mavs were able to accomplish in this game hinged on their play in the first and third quarters, which have been the most troublesome all season. They started things off well, and though they were down one at the end of the first, it was evident that this was the Mavs’ game. The Blazers made their runs and had their chances, but it was a Maverick world and they were just temporarily leasing in it. The third quarter, in which the Mavs typically implode on their way to a double-digit loss, instead had the Mavs standing their ground against a Blazer resurgence. The storm was weathered, the Mavs bounced back, and the day was won. Huzzah!
Dirk, you got it goin’ on.
The Blazers don’t have anyone that matches up well with Dirk. LaMarcus Aldridge would seem to be a good choice in theory, but somewhere between ‘good, tall defender with reasonably quick feet’ and ‘actually keeping Dirk from doing whatever he wants’, Aldridge falters. To be honest, I’m not even sure I can put a finger on it. Even the plays where Aldridge does a commendable job at making Dirk’s life difficult, Nowitzki just launches an awkward, off-balance jumper (for Dirk, is there any other kind?) over LaMarcus’ outstretched arms. Dirk didn’t quite match his production in Phoenix, but was every bit as brilliant with 29 points (13-24 FG), 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and just 2 turnovers. But take a look at that picture up top, and it tells you all you need to know: any time Dirk does his awesome reverse-popped-jersey-tug thing, something’s going very, very right. Up 2 with just a minute to play, Dirk hit a tough jumper with Aldridge in his face. Travis Outlaw made a layup down the middle of the broken zone, and Dirk iced the game with a foot-on-the-three-point-line jumper off the dish from Jason Terry.
Just for fun, take a look at Dirk’s shot chart from games against Portland this season (via NBA.com):
Yeah. I know.
Jason Terry (24 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers) was nearly as fantastic, and was in full effect. The Chris Paul-Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll may be terrifying in its own regard, but on nights like these I would hate to be an opposing fan watching Dirk and Terry go to work.
No recap of this game would be complete without mention of the zone. According to the Blazers’ broadcast team, Brandon Roy was “chugging Pepto” on the bench during several breaks in the action, and it showed. Without Roy’s usual assertiveness and penetration, the Blazers looked like a much more athletic, taller version of my intramural basketball team. Nate McMillan is a great coach, but he did not have the Blazers ready to face the zone. The Mavs went to it consistently in the second and fourth, and Portland just couldn’t get good looks.
Today, I was planning on writing a piece about the growing marginalization of Erick Dampier. Brandon Bass and James Singleton seemed on the up-and-up, and Ryan Hollins’ outburst against the Suns only made things worse for Damp. Then Dampier reminded me why we keep him around with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and a block, most of which was much more emphatic than I could put into type. The Blazers were focused on stopping the Mavs’ shooters and repeatedly forgot about Dampier in the middle. Four offensive rebounds and a handful of dunks later, I’m well aware of what Dampier can offer.
Jason Kidd, in typical Kidd fashion, finished with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and just 7 points. That’s nice production, but his night wasn’t anything to write home about. A good night from Kidd, a decent job on Brandon Roy during the man-to-man stretches, and a near disaster averted when Antoine Wright corrected a Kidd mistake when Travis Outlaw managed to poke away Kidd’s dribble in crunch time.
As Dampier’s play increased, James Singleton and Ryan Hollins faded to the background; neither logged a single second of action. Not that Brandon Bass (10 points, 4 rebounds) helped. Carlisle went shallow with the rotation, only playing Terry, Bass, and Devean George off the bench. Devean George once again proved that he’s still Devean George, and that he’s always willing to foul players attacking the basket — but only when it’s too late and they actually make their attempts.
Barea started again in place of Josh Howard, and had his moments. Unfortunately, most of what he did well on the court was countered by his overaggressiveness. It comes with the territory with J.J., and he wouldn’t be where he is now if he wasn’t aggressive. Still, a little more control now and again couldn’t hurt, and he’d be much more useful in his role if he took off his blinders once in awhile.
- The Mavs had just one turnover, and shot 51.% from the field in the first half. Wicked awesome.
- Joel Przybilla had just about my favorite play in all of basketball: he went up for a block attempt on Jason Terry (I think), and instead of swatting the shot, just grabbed it out of the air. Terry’s runner may have already been tipped, but still.
- J.J. Barea injured what appeared to be his left elbow, Devean George left the game with a knee injury, and the Blazers Nicolas Batum left the game with a shoulder strain.
- The Blazers had won 12 consecutive home games before last night.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Jason Terry. As usual, Dirk probably deserves it, but in the name of spreading the love around, I’m throwing this one JET’s way. Terry had an excellent offensive night and was the ideal counterpart for Dirk. Bonus points for not forcing the issue on what would be the Mavs’ last field goal of the game, a good shot fake as the clock dwindled that opened up Dirk for a great look. Jason Terry, I raise my glass to you.