“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
The game was on the line, and the ball in Dirk’s hands. He let loose from his home, the elbow, but a shot that Dirk has seen fall thousands of times clanked off the rim in a completely uncharacteristic manner, demonstratively different than the typical soft swish or gentle rim-out. The Mavs fell just short against a nice Nuggets squad in a game that was very much within their grasp.
Is it weird that I feel little regret other than the casual “Well, gosh darn it!” sentiment?
The two cornerstones of the Mavs’ successes this season were completely off their game. Dirk had 26 and 11, but had just 7 makes in 23 attempts and missed his last 8 shots in the loss. Jason Terry, despite hitting a few threes to keep the Mavs in the game, was 6-17 from the field. Instead, all the theatrics came from the unexpecte heroes: J.J. Barea and Ryan Hollins. Barea hit big bucket after big bucket, and did a truly admirable job when matched up with the bigger, stronger, better, and All-Starsier Chauncey Billups. Without Barea’s top-notch performance, the Mavs wouldn’t have even sniffed victory. Ryan Hollins was everywhere defensively, swatting or contesting every look within five feet of the basket. 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks is a wonderful night for a player like Hollins, especially when his defensive influence isn’t fully measured by those numbers.
And then there was that Carmelo guy. He was absolutely brilliant, and though it may shock you to see that he took 29 shots, it shocked me more to discover he missed 11. He was that good. His offensive arsenal was in full view, and to me there is no doubt that this guy can carry a team offensively. Call him a ‘franchise player,’ a ‘leader,’ or neither, but I’ve seen more than enough. I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but the Mavs missed Devean George.
It may seem like a strange thing to say when the Nuggets shot 56% from the field, but I was pleased with the Mavs non-Carmelo defense. They played Chauncey Billups masterfully on the pick-and-roll, cutting off his passing angles and putting immediate pressure on him as he came around the screen. Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen were left floating in oblivion, unable to capitalize on the Mavs’ double teams. The zone played a key role for the Mavs once again, and helped push a lineup of mostly non-starters above and beyond the Nugs to tighten up the game down the stretch. It wasn’t perfect, but it forced Denver’s O to stumble, and rebounding wasn’t a problem. Nicely done, Mavs.
So much in this game went wrong for the Mavs, but so much went right. Essentially no player aside from Barea and Hollins played notably well, and yet a Mavs team down two starters fought the Nuggets to the wire. Denver is hardly unbeatable, but they are a good team with some great players. Carmelo was nigh unguardable, and yet the game was right there for the taking. It might say something that the game slipped from their clutches, but I’m willing to overlook a different number in the loss column provided this game means something in terms of the Mavs’ team defense, Ryan Hollins’ maturity as a player, and the team’s ability to cope without significant players in the lineup and the usual stud-dom from others.