“Beginnings are always messy.”
Remember the good old days? Those times when the offense took care of itself, and the Mavs’ supporting cast was never to be outdone? Those wonderful days of yore, those wonderful days of last week? They’ve never seemed more distant. 37 minutes of building, rallying, and battling was undone in just 5, as the normally poised, proficient Maverick offense imploded before our very eyes.
In that woeful five minutes, the Mavs were outscored 15-2. They shot five jumpers and made just one. They had no free throw attempts. And, perhaps most importantly, a completely manageable two-point deficit was suddenly a fifteen point one. Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard, the Mavs’ two most effective offensive players in the game, combined for just two attempts (both Dirk’s) during the game-deciding stretch. Team basketball is cute and all, but at some point your best players need to be there to make plays, and the offense as a whole needs to put those players in a position to succeed. The Mavs clearly failed in that regard, and my eyes are fixed squarely on Jason Kidd.
Kidd has done plenty to validate his acquisition, but the heady floor general was actin’ the fool during the most critical stretches of Game 1. I can confidently say that I’ve never seen so many poorly timed and poorly executed bounce passes from such a talented point guard, and Kidd made it easy for Denver’s defense by bouncing the ball right into their laps. Obviously the Dallas brass didn’t dream of Kidd double-dribbling away fast break opportunities or hurling passes out of bounds when they traded for him a year ago, but that’s exactly what he was doing with the Mavs’ most critical possessions. I can accept Kidd’s weaknesses. I know he won’t be an impact scorer, and I know that his defensive abilities are impacted by his age. But I’m not prepared for Kidd’s strengths to suddenly disappear before our very eyes.
It’s a shame that the Mavs weren’t able to hang around in the fourth quarter, because the Nuggets’ offensive leaders, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, had been quiet until that point. Entering the final frame, Billups and Anthony had totaled a combined 15 points (4-13 FG) and 5 turnovers. But when Melo finally showed up and the Mavs were unable to answer, the game was essentially over. I can’t give enough credit to Nene (24 points, 9-13 FG) and the Denver bench for keeping the Nuggets afloat and then some during the meat of the game. Chris Andersen was every bit as nutty and active as you’d expect, and with fantastic results. J.R. Smith used his dynamic scoring style to the team’s benefit, which is one of the factors that takes the Nuggets from “good” status to “great.” And Anthony Carter brought a completely unexpected scoring punch off the bench by killing the Mavericks in transition. Those three in particular accomplished everything that the Mavericks reserves could not, completely dwarfing the Mavs’ bench in scoring output, defensive impact, and influence on the pace and momentum of the game.
It’s worth noting that Erick Dampier and Josh Howard each faced a small injury crisis. Both turned an ankle (left for Damp, right for Josh), and both returned to action. Howard never quite returned to his first quarter form (injury or normalcy?), but his defensive effort was certainly adequate despite Carmelo’s explosion. Dampier’s injury was even more difficult to gauge, considering Nene’s speed off of the pick-and-roll would likely kill Damp, sprain or no sprain. Regardless of their individual performances, the Mavs on the whole seemed to fold under the convenient circumstance of the injuries. Their assertiveness went out the window, and the defense that had held Denver to 16 first quarter points went into turnstyle mode. Nene, Smith, and Andersen killed the Mavs’ reserves, and though the game wasn’t out of reach until that fatal fourth quarter stretch, the Mavs surendered the lead and their drive along with their clean bill of health.
Chris Andersen had some very limited success guarding Dirk, but it’s clear that if the Nuggs continue to try to guard Dirk with just one defender and/or continue to switch on screens that Nowitzki will burn them every time. Kenyon Martin was touted as an ideal Dirk defender, but Dirk’s 4 of 5 shooting with Martin D-ing him up should put that speculation to rest. Martin and the rest of the Nuggets were clearly ready to be physical with Dirk, but even an extra shove or two didn’t force him off his game. The key will be getting Terry, whose shot attempts in the flow of the offense were clearly limited, involved, and rallying the bench back into action. Oh, and hoping that Kidd doesn’t decide to channel his inner Rafer Alston.
- The Mavs turned to doubling Carmelo and Chauncey on the catch, and we learned two things: coming off of Dahntay Jones is okay, coming off of the Birdman is not. KA-KAW!
- We need to start worrying about Nene…now. And, Dampier has no business chasing him around on the perimeter. If Nene wants to start popping jumpers, I’ll live with that.
- There were referees at this game, and they were truly odd souls.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes, hands-down, to Dirk, who finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. Dirk started off a white-hot 6 for 6, and though he had undoubtedly one of the worst misses of his career on an errant jumper, it’s hard to ask more of Dirk offensively.