“Oh, how disappointment tracks the steps of hope.”
It says something about a team’s constitution and performance when a game like last night’s doesn’t seem all that surprising. It’s not even all that disappointing, in the specific sense. It’s just Exhibit Z in the exhaustive repertoire of the prosecution against the Mavs; another reason to disregard them and their potential for rattling cages in the playoffs.
When this kind of game happens once, it’s a disappointment. Good teams shouldn’t lose to lottery teams, but it does happen. It’s not the end of the world. A minor letdown, to be sure, but nothing that a could team can’t move past and forget. The Mavs not only have dropped many a game to inferior teams, but also happened to get blown out by this same Memphis team early in 2009. It’s not even a case of the Grizz having the Mavs’ number, or some combination of matchup problems that creates a perfect storm. The Mavs just refuse to show up defensively against a team that can have potent offensive nights, and they refuse to match Memphis’ effort level on the glass and on the defensive end. This loss may have not been depressing, but that fact is.
The Mavs’ offense didn’t experience any roadblocks until the fourth quarter, at which time it stopped in its tracks, stiffened up, and died. The first quarter featured the Mavs pounding it inside, with the combination of Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and Dirk Nowitzki (who got into the act with a few buckets deep in the paint) scoring 17 of the Mavs’ first 27 points. Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur, and Darko Milicic were ceding position to the Dallas bigs, and all too often it culminated in an easy bucket or a trip to the line. Jason Kidd seemed equally determined to post up the smaller, younger Mike Conley, with mixed results. In principle, Kidd posting up the idea of smaller point guards is awesome. He’s stronger and bigger than almost every point guard he matches up against. The difficulties come in the execution, which reveal that Kidd doesn’t exactly have the skill set for such an endeavor. The Kidd post-up either results in an off-balance turnaround jumper or a kick out to an open shooter. Again, good in theory. But Kidd isn’t exactly the best finisher around the rim, and the rest of the team (sans Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki) aren’t exactly the best finishers from the three point line.
The Grizzlies apparently are. Or they were, for this night, at least. Mike Conley (25 points on 10-16 shooting including 4-5 from three, and 5 assists) led the charge and shot with a load of confidence. To all those who deny Conley’s rightful place atop the Memphis point guard throne (if it can be called that), kindly remove your feet from your mouths. He’s a young guy with plenty of time to grow, and not having to look over his shoulder for Kyle Lowry or watch the start of the game from the bench will help in that area tremendously. He’s going to be something special.
After halftime, Dirk (35 points on 14-26 FG, 9 rebounds) took the team on his back as Memphis looked to build a lead. The Dallas offense turned into isolation after isolation, with Dirk making Hakim Warrick, Darrell Arthur, and Rudy Gay look silly with shot fakes, footwork, and that jumper that was smothered and covered in smooth sauce. Delicious.
Unfortunately, Dirk (and the Mavs as a team) picked the wrong team to go cold, and went 5-19 in the fourth quarter. The Mavs had trouble contesting the Grizzlies’ shooters all game long (partly because of their own fault, and partly because the Grizz were hot hot hot) , and when the offense went so did the Mavs. O.J. Mayo hit two huge shots to put Memphis up to stay, and Jason Terry could only put up two clunker three point attempts with the game still in the balance. Naturally, because the basketball gods are cruel deities indeed, Terry hit his third, insconsequential shot once the outcome had already been determined. Just what I needed: a slap in the face.
If you really want a culprit, I have a few:
- Blame Josh Howard. That’s the easy one. He didn’t play, and that just has to be his fault…right? Point is, the Mavs should know how to win without Josh by now, and that excuse turned up lame long ago.
- Blame the rebounding. The Grizzlies came up with 11 offensive rebounds, and in a game that came down to a bucket or two, that’s pretty huge. I don’t expect the Mavs to be in position to get a defensive rebound on every missed attempt. But not securing the ‘bound on a missed free throw? That’s bush league. A bit more boxing out and this game goes the Mavs’ way.
- Blame the offense. Dirk’s a stud. But again, when the big guns finally ran out of ammo, the rest of the team couldn’t get the ball through the net. Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, J.J. Barea, and Jason Kidd all had their moments on the offensive end, but unfortunately none of those moments were in the fourth quarter. That’s not gonna cut it on a night where Conley, Mayo, and especially Rudy Gay are all getting to the rim and hitting their shots.
At least the guys know to create a little buzz for Sunday’s game with Phoenix, which suddenly became even more interesting. The Mavs are just 3 games ahead of the Suns for the 8th seed, but that number could suddenly dwindle to 2 if the Mavs blow Sunday’s game in Dallas. Good news, though: Utah, home warriors that they are, actually blew a home game to the lowly Wolves. It also just so happens that the Mavs play the Jazz in Dallas on Wednesday. That means that the seven seed is still very much attainable, and dodging a first round series against the Lakers remains a distinct possibility…supposing that nights like these never happen again. Hmph.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitkzi. Dirk. Dirk-O-Rama. Dirkmania. Dirkopolis. The Dirkster. 35 points is a nice chunk of change, but even more impressive was just how dominant he was in the third quarter. Dirk’s stats from that Q? 17 points (8-11 FG) 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, and just 1 turnover. Spectacular.