“When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”
There are losses that make you want to yell and scream. There are losses that make you want to roll over and die. And then, there are losses that leave you staring in disbelief, mouth agape, as if the life has been sucked right out of you.
Or, if you’re like me, it’s a rotation of the three until I successfully recover from my postgame stupor.
In general, I try to avoid the thing that nobody wants to talk about but everybody wants to talk about: officiating. There’s a certain give and take to the ref game, and I respect that. But tonight is different. Although a blown call in the fourth quarter technically carries the same weight as one in the first, the critical mistake of the officiating crew in the final seconds of Game 3 was the biggest dagger I’ve seen in these playoffs. In one missed call, Dallas fell from a hopeful 1-2 to a funereal 0-3, a death knell in NBA basketball. It’s up for debate whether or not the Mavs had a real chance at winning this series, but one suddenly silent whistle made any debate irrelevant.
No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, and though winning some games would dress up the series in its Sunday’s finest, the Mavs don’t appear to be a team that can buck that trend. Every piece of evidence imaginable would point to the Mavs losing this series, and can’t even convince myself, much less you, otherwise.
What makes last night’s loss so painful is that the Mavs did what they needed to to win. Nene (5 points, 2-10 FG), a dominant force in Games 1 and 2, was neutralized by a more effective frontline and a defense aware of his presence. Josh Howard was revived from ankle hell to score 14 points, grab 7 rebounds, and play some commendable defense on a white-hot Carmelo Anthony. Dirk (33 points, 16 rebounds) was absolutely wonderful, and managed to actually build upon his prior brilliance by adding an impressive 15 free throw attempts to his series resume. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry each broke out of their respective slumps, with Kidd running the break with mastery and Terry hitting the (original) biggest shot of the game to put the Mavs up 4. But all of that was wiped away when Antoine Wright tried to use the Mavs’ foul to give with two seconds remaining and was denied by official Mark Wunderlich, who saw no reason to stop the play and allowed Carmelo a free look at a game-winner. This isn’t a complaint about a questionable call — NBA president of league and basketball ops Joel Litvin confirmed the boo-boo — but rather voicing the frustration of a clear error that denied the Mavs a chance at this series.
The thought that history will likely remember this day as a Nuggets’ triumph rather than an officiating failure pains me, but credit to Denver for clawing their way through this game. It wasn’t always pretty and, to be frank, wasn’t always effective, but they managed to perservere despite a lot of things going wrong. Foul trouble and poor execution be damned, the Nuggets weren’t going to see themselves embarrassed, and that mentality just so happened to get them face-to-face with a winning jumper. Luckily for the Nuggs and their fans, Melo didn’t blink.
Brandon Bass (16 points, 5 rebounds, 12-14 FT) was awesome. He alone dominated Chris Andersen (plagued by foul trouble) and J.R. Smith (plagued by poor shot selection being J.R. Smith), and played tough interior defense while Erick Dampier was resting. Early in the game, it looked as though Ryan Hollins may have supplanted Bass as the back-up center, but Bass played with exactly the kind of energy and discipline that he needs to be effective on a regular basis. The free throw attempts are clear evidence of his assertiveness around the basket, but that kind of quantification hardly tells how important he was to the Mavs’ offense. In the first half, Dirk sitting on the bench meant a scoring drought. But once Bass started hitting his stride, he afforded Nowitzki some much-needed rest and the team a much-needed weapon.
Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups…were Carmelo Anthony (31 points, 8 rebounds) and Chauncey Billups (32 points). They had the kind of big games that you expect from players of their paygrade, and there was no chance that Denver even sniffs a win if those two don’t contribute huge baskets and meaningful plays at both ends.
Aside from that, the only other Maverick-killer was their inability to secure defensive rebounds. The Nuggets grabbed 13 offensive boards, many of which were converted into impressive tip-ins and dunks. That’s a disheartening way to end a play, especially when Dallas’ half-court defense seemed much improved from the first two games. They were putting the Nuggets in tough spots, but Birdman or Kenyon Martin would swoop in for an easy jam as the ball bounced off the rim. We’ve asked the Mavs to improve their defense and they responded, which makes those easy put-backs that much more harrowing.
- Well, Gerald Green played a full 9 minutes, and it wasn’t pretty. Josh Howard and Antoine Wright’s foul trouble left Carlisle digging into his bench, and Green rewarded his generosity with 0-4 shooting, 0 assists, 0 rebounds, 0 steals, 0 blocks, and 3 fouls. Ai yai yai.
- In case you missed it, you can actualy re-watch the game in its entirety here.
- Say what you will about Antoine Wright “giving up” on that final play, but I don’t see many faults with his play. If he challenges the shot, there’s actually a decent chance that Anthony catches him jumping from out of position, draws a foul, and gets three free throws (or maybe even more if the foul was flagrant). If he even challenges the shot, there’s still a chance that a whistle negates his efforts. And all of this is taking place in about a second flat, fleeting moments in which Wright is expecting play to be stopped by a tweet.
- Josh Howard was called for an offensive foul on a play where he drove into the lane and warded off a defender by kicking out his foot…which you may remember was almost the exact play that won a regular season game for Chauncey Billups and the Nuggets against the Mavs back in January (check the clip here at the 1:50 mark, although it’s pretty bad quality).
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Brandon Bass. Dirk has been playing well all series long and deserves his props, but Bass provided something both unexpected and delightful tonight. Shooting 14 free throws off the bench in just 25 minutes is quite a feat, and Bass is quite a player.