Denver Nuggets 117, Dallas Mavericks 105

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 6, 2009 under Recaps | 30 Comments to Read

Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.
-Robert Cody

Brick by brick, the Mavs built the foundation for a victory.  They survived 1st quarter adversity to remain within striking distance.  The bench stepped up as Josh Howard went down.  They clawed their way into a game that they really had no business being in.  And yet, when a Jason Terry three finally pushed the Mavs ahead 74-72, I couldn’t shake the unmistakable feeling that it would all come crashing down.

Boy, did it, in a way that may seem eerily familiar.

After hanging, and hanging, and hanging with a Nuggets team playing better basketball than them on both sides of the floor, the Mavs blew a perfect opportunity by scoring just 2 points in the first 6 minutes of the fourth quarter.  There were rim-outs, there were horrible turnovers, and there were blocked shots, all of which seemed to end in free buckets for Denver on the break.  The offensive magic that pulled the Mavs through the third quarter unscathed was left gasping the thin Denver air, and the Nuggets danced on the grave of the Mavs’ dead and buried transition defense.  The team that wanted to turn this series into a marathon was run out of the gym, and I can’t decide whether ‘leak out’ better describes the nemesis of the Mavs’ defense or the insufferable feeling of their playoff hopes dripping away.  Each drop brings us a bit closer to another playoff loss puddled on the floor, and another step towards the team staring itself down in the puddle’s reflection.

For three quarters, this was a game.  You can thank Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on 20 shots, 9 rebounds, 4 assists) for that.  Dirk’s impact was anything but the silent assassinations we’re used to; each fall-away and maneuver in the post was deafening.  He served as a constant reminder that no Nugget can guard him (don’t worry, I’ll get to the TNT crew later), and also that the Mavs’ offense can’t function without him.  That’s where Denver’s defense really excels.  They can’t stop Dirk, and they don’t even do a very good job of limiting him.  But the second that the offense stops going through Dirk or the second that he sits on the bench, the Mavs look bewildered.  Our possessions begin with a lot of dribbling on the perimeter by Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, and usually end with a turnover or a forced jumper at the shot clock buzzer.  They haven’t taken away our best player, but they may have taken away much more.

The number of open dunks and layups the Nuggets had was humiliating.  Erick Dampier, Ryan Hollins, and James Singleton finally started stopping the freebies with a steady supply of fouls, but the attempts the Nuggets were able to get on the whole were entirely too easy.  The Mavs would grind and pick and squeeze two points out of a jumper, and the Nuggets would respond in a matter of seconds by hitting a wide open Nene for a dunk.  It’s impossible to say exactly how much Dampier’s ankle is limiting him, but for his sake I hope it feels like a ball and chain.  Otherwise, Nene has basically ripped Damp’s heart out of his chest, demoralizing and emasculating him on national television with rolls to the basket, thunderous dunks, and sly work in the post.  Nene finished with 25 and 8, but it seemed like his highlight reel would last for days.

The Mavs’ bench does deserve the appropriate credit for their offensive exploits, but the defense was bad enough that no Mav should leave this recap unmarred.  Jason Terry finally looked like Jason Terry again, registering 21 points and 6 assists off the bench.  Ryan Hollins was the Mavs’ most effective center, and he somehow corralled his speed and athleticism into a few buckets.  J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass vaguely resemble the contributors we saw against San Antonio, but even their mild success was balanced with a steady diet of defensive failure.

On his return, JET ran headfirst into his foil, J.R. Smith (21 points on 6-10 shooting).  Smith showed his full range by making alert, intelligent passes to open teammates, and pulling up early for an errant 26-footer at the end of the second quarter that allowed Kidd to run the length of the court and hit a bomb of his own to pull the Mavs within three going into the half.  He was every bit the Maverick irritant, coming away with a few steals and hitting big shots to stop the Mavs’ momentum dead in its tracks.  I’m sure George Karl will fall asleep smiling.

Carlisle made frequent use of the zone defense, and personally, I’m not sure what to think about it.  It seemed to limit the number of successful slashes, but the Mavs gave up entirely too many offensive rebounds to Denver’s bigs, and surrendered a few baskets to backdoor cuts.  It’s hard to tell exactly how effective it was without some in-depth analysis, but to be honest it seemed like a wash.

Carmelo Anthony (25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) was again brilliant in the fourth quarter, capping an otherwise quiet game with a 15-point explosion to put the game out of reach.  Whether foul trouble or stomach pains have kept Melo mortal, his close-out performances have been stellar.  He’s hitting tough jumpers without forgetting to attack the basket, and essentially using a style that is quintessentially Melo to improve on his perceived shortcomings.  There’s no doubt that he has evolved as a player, and when that fully-evolved form is on display it is to be both feared and respected.

Closing thoughts:

  • I can’t think of anything that makes me angrier than Jason Kidd penetrating all the way to the rim, and declining a layup for a chance to whip the ball around to a shooter.  Truly infuriating basketball.
  • The TNT crew (and by that I mean Kenny, Charles, and C-Webb) really grilled Dirk for describing Denver’s defenders with positive attributes.  Apparently in saying that Nene and Martin are strong and Andersen can challenge shots, Dirk was ceding some gravely important psychological edge.  Oh, but then he kind of dropped 35 on them.  A big thanks to Ernie Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo for being voices of reason and actually listening to Dirk’s soundbite before they frolick off into exaggeration land.
  • Denver’s first quarter parade to the free throw line was brutal.  They entered the bonus with about 6 minutes remaining, and shot 14 free throw attempts in the first quarter alone.
  • Jason Kidd’s performance was much easier to swallow, but with all the free three-pointers he blew, his performance still hurt.  On top of that, Chauncey Billups (18 points, 8 assists, 4-9 3FG) finally emerged from whatever cave he was hiding in, so not only was Kidd sub-par, he was outclassed.
  • For those who don’t know, Josh Howard missed three of the four quarters with some swelling and soreness in his ankle.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk.  Let’s just leave it at that, because even though Dirk had a wonderful night offensively, this team doesn’t deserve a superlative right now.

  • Victor

    I was listening to that whole Dirk tirade. God bless EJ for paying attention to…uh…language. I feel as if every player-turned-commentator/sports analyst from the Jordan Era (and before) has this thing where you really have to assert your masculinity in order to be considered strong. So quieter, self-assured yet non-cocky guys like Dirk, Pau Gasol, and Yao Ming are mistakenly viewed as super-boring and soft. Kenny even brought up the fact that Kobe went on record saying he would flat out refuse to let Nate Robinson dunk over him in a dunk contest. That might be a way of not letting yourself look weak, but really, to me, that’s just being an a-hole. Overcompensation is a weakness in itself.

    I get a sense of anti-foreign player sentiment from those guys. A lot. I just felt like Dirk’s little statement, which was just a statement commending various talents that his defenders had, was just fuel for the validation of their prejudice against his style of play.

    And why is it OK for defenders like Shane Battier to say things like (not a direct quote) “Well…We can really only make him WORK for his buckets…Because he IS Kobe Bryant” but it’s not OK for a scorer like Dirk to merely just say good things about his opponents? This just shows how, despite all the lip service to defense, offense is really the only thing people care about, since offensive players have “unspoken rules” they have to follow.

    Oh. And what the hell is up with everyone freaking out about Martin’s slight push on Nowitzki? Dirk didn’t even freak out about it. I’m getting tired of the media trying to hype up the tension between these two teams. No doubt, there’s some…But come on…Dirk and K-Mart are on good terms with one another. It’s kinda obvious when they’re sharing laughs on national television during a playoff game.

    Everytime I have buttloads of studying to do, my reading of this site increases exponentially.

  • David

    Yah, the TNT crew was totally giving Dirk the shaft about his quote.

    Regarding the game… man that would have been nice to win, but when it comes down to it Denver is a better team. And as of this morning, the only thing that matters are the next two games. Hold home court advantage and they are still in this thing! Lose one of the next two games and this thing is done!

  • Sammy

    The talking heads at TNT were so bad that they almost ruined the game for me, and I’m a Nuggets fan. Awful, awful television.

    As for the game, the Mavs’ 4th quarter turnovers are baffling. Dallas was solid for most of the game, but in the 4th they look like a middle-school rec team being full-court pressed for the first time. Complete panic mode.

    Hoping for a split in Dallas. It’ll be tough.

  • Dustin

    I just don’t know what to think about this series. I keep wondering if this Denver team is really that good, is this Dallas team really that soft, or is it a combination of the two? My eyes in the last month+ tell me that the Mavs were a different team that were putting it together at the right time, but now they tell me that the thoughts of blowing the thing up and trying to nab a premier player to go alongside Dirk is going to be the only way to give this team a chance to compete once again for a title.

  • Frontrange

    I am from Denver too and the TNT guys were aweful. You don’t have to beat a dead horse – say your piece and then move on. Dirk is a little different from the other superstars (Kobe, Michael) but that doesn’t mean thier way is the only way.

    Those fourth quarter turnovers happen when tired players start to make mental mistakes. With Terry and Dirk as the only players capable of creating offense, too much of the load falls on them. The Nugs might not be that much deeper, but Anthony’s 42 minutes were a lot less work than Dirk’s 40.

    One think I learned about competing at elevation . . it not the effort and phyiscal abilities that go first, it is the decision making and in both of these games, Dallas has started to mentally break down in the fourth quarter (Kidd in particular).

  • Brian D

    Glad JET showed up, but this game really highlighted why Josh is so important. With him out we’re forced to play at least two players who can’t score.

    My respect for Nene has grown exponentially in this series. Random thought: when exactly do you get to start going by one name if you’re Brazilian? Is there some kind of threshold that you have to cross, or can you just do it when you become a professional athlete?

    I can really do without C-Webb calling anyone else soft. Does he think we forgot those Sacramento teams he was the centerpiece of?

  • Joe Bachofen

    I would like to commend Victor, David, Sammy, Dustin and Frontrange for their interesting and diverse viewpoints. It’s not often you see a sports blog without chest thumping fanatics. You gentleman show a real love for the game and your respective teams. I had the pleasure of attending Texas Western College in 1965/66 when they won the NCAA championship and it is that kind of experience that creates true respect for what a team can accomplish.

    Denver and Dallas both have fine teams, the Nuggets just match up better so far. This Nuggets team might have what it takes to match up well with any team.

    In any case, have fun watching.

  • josh howard

    Why do a platapus built that way?

  • Kirk

    That altitude combined with no J-Ho really took a toll on the team in the 4th. They hang and hang and hang, and then just implode. It’s painful to watch.

    The homecourt advantage is tremendous for the Nuggets, like how Dallas’ old stadium used to be when the Mavs were on the rise. Just so much energy you can’t help but be impressed.

    I’m going to have to complain about Howard again. He is 30 years old. He’s not getting any better and while his presense is incredibly important, his complete lack of consistency (health, shot selection, professionalism, judgement) really bother me as a fan.

    I can’t question his rehab or anything since I’m not in the know, but his ankle health has been way too poor for way too long. I’m not saying we need to get rid of him because he is bad, but because his impact is too important and the constant “will we have him or won’t we” really messes with team chemistry and consistency.

    I would miss him if he was traded and I appreciate his efforts, but the Mavs aren’t going anywhere in the big picture. It’s time to start thinking about the future.

  • Chaz

    Denver is really clicking. I think the Mavs would be putting up a better show against 3 of the other 7 playoff teams with their level of play. The turnovers are frustrating, and the 4th quarter was disheartening, but the Mavs aren’t playing bad ball. Hopefully the layoff will help Josh get back, and hopefully being away from Denver will take away a little of their spark against the Mavs.

  • Andrew

    @ Brian – This article explains the Brazilian one-name thing: http://www.slate.com/id/2143404/. It’s not just athletes; the President goes by Lula, and other professionals use nicknames as well.

  • Kevin

    What I don’t understand about the fuss being made over Dirk’s comments is how it’s really any different from what Kobe probably said about Battier/Artest? Dwyane Wade doesn’t go to the line like 20 times at the end of games 3 and 5 of the 06 Finals and this conversation doesn’t happen. That’s why I hate the sports media. Look at KG, he’s given the choker label his whole life, plays pretty badly (offensively at least) in the NBA finals but they win so now he’ll never be a choker again while Dirk’s “softness” will get the blame if they lose this series even if he keeps up his 30 and 9 on good shooting. It’s garbage. About the actual game though why do we seem to stop going to Dirk in important situations like the beginning of that 4th quarter? They havent’ stopped him all game but we’re having Wright fuck around out there like he’s Kobe Bryant instead of running a Jet-Dirk pick and pop or a Dirk iso at the top of the key. These are our money plays but we seem to panic down the stretch and get away from them. A lot of that has to fall on Kidd and Carlisle.

  • Ben

    I’m a die-hard Nuggets fan, getting that out of the way I can’t express how impressed I am with the professional and respectful attitude that Dirk displays. It’s so easy to hate a team even more when players talk trash about the other team. This isn’t the case with the Mavericks. Dirk can score whenever he wants and I think that’s obvious. Yes I would love to see the Nuggets sweep them and move on but I at least respect the Mavericks and their unstoppable Dirk.

  • Brian D

    Thanks Andrew, good stuff, I learned something today.

    Big ups to the Denver fans in this particular comments section. Always good when we can have mutual respect for one another, even when one team is handing the other its ass.

  • DHahn

    Another die hard Nuggs fan here, and I would like to echo Ben’s comment. I went into the NO series as a fan of Chris Paul, and soured on him quite a bit after that series. I have the exact opposite view of Dirk, and wasn’t a big fan going into the series but now really respect the guy. The TNT stuff from last night is just ridiculous. Since when is stating the strenths of your competitor a sign of weakness? I think that shows more confidence in yourself and your abilities, rather than being insecure and macho when speaking about your opponent.

    That being said, I hope we can put the “nail in the coffin” on Saturday. Go Nuggs!

  • Calvin

    Anybody else notice how bad PJ Carlesimo is as an announcer? He’s like John Madden for basketball. Aside from his defense of Dirk, he didn’t have a single interesting, coherent or otherwise entertaining thought. boo TNT

    • http://www.thetwomangame.com Rob Mahoney

      @Calvin: So…PJ worse as a coach or an ‘analyst?’ Jury’s still out.

      Thanks to all the Nuggets fans dropping by, you guys have been awesome. People can hurl accusations about Denver as a team all they’d like, but you guys have been class acts.

  • Thugget42

    wacc_attack,

    That would be 96 minutes now, and 6 for 6 on the year……

  • http://www.bign.com/cagabel Cynthia

    It is so very nice that people see what a great player and what a class act Dirk Nowitzki is….especially fans from the other team. There has NEVER been a power forward in the league quite like Dirk and it’ll be a long time (if ever) coming. I am and ALWAYS have been proud that Dirk is on the team I love. Dirk has more class in his pinkie than the TNT crew have in their whole bodies. Keep playing the way you are and keep humble Dirk. You make us MFFL’s very proud.
    GO MAVS!

  • Brandon

    Watching this series reminds me of playing Sacramento back in the day. We would give Mike Bibby about 35 layups but somehow managed to still be in the game. I think when the big men get involved with dunks and layups of their own it’s just too much to overcome with jump shots on the other end. I would give Ryan Hollins the start for Game 3. I know he’s young and he will make some mistakes but he’ll also block some shots and get some dunks of his own. If it’s broke, (defending the paint) fix it. And right now it’s definitely broke.

    As far as Chuck and Kenny, can someone please tell me when these guys suddenly became significant? You all need to realize they are like the gag-gift condom – For Entertainment Only – do not rely on!

  • wacc_attack
  • Victor

    wacc, aren’t you the always super-optimistic guy?

    i want. to. know. what. was. up. with. that.

  • Victor

    OMG.

    OMG. I didn’t see THAT. PREGNANT?! WHAT?!

  • Crowdawg

    What’s the big deal with Dirk saying that Denver has three great defenders? That’s all that he said. He didn’t say that he was throwing in the towel or anything even remotely close to that. He was simply showing good sportsmanship. There is nothing wrong with telling a guy that he is a great player. Then, go out and try to beat him. That’s what sports are for. I am a big Dirk fan. He is great! Oh, by the way, I’m a huge Nuggets fan living here in Colorado all my life. Leave a good sport alone! We need more of them.

  • Thugget42

    wacc_attack,

    MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    SHE’S A CON ARTIST!!!
    MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Thugget42

    wacc_attack,

    MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    MORE IRONY!!!!
    MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    • http://www.thetwomangame.com Rob Mahoney

      …am I the only one not seeing the irony?

      They were right. Irony really is dead.

  • Seth

    This is a stellar blog and I’m kind of disappointed that I just now found it with my Nuggets playing the Mavs. I’d have to say this is my favorite blog for another team. I thought the whole TNT-Dirk discussion was ridiculous as well. They act like he said, “I’ve got no chance against those guys” or something. I think it was a stupid statement by Webber that for some reason gained momentum with Chuck and Kenny instead of just letting it go. That being said, those guys are still stellar analysts and highly entertaining. Also, I don’t believe there is an anti-foreign player sentiment on the show — just look at Chuck’s outrageous man-crush on that flopping loser Ginobli.

    The author of this blog should replace the columnists at the paper in Dallas. How is a site that is admittedly biased ten-times more insightful and objective than the major daily paper. It’s refreshing to see people on here not resorting to crying about officiating when there isn’t a true gripe to be had. You stay classy Mavs fans, and good luck next year, because we’re taking you out. Go Nuggets!

  • Victor

    Ginobili has rings though, so he doesn’t count. And he’s from Argentina. I think I meant European/Asian countries really.

  • Greg

    Another Nugs fan who just found this site. It’s my fav. opponents site too.
    I couldn’t agree more about the Dirk/TNT thing. The guy says they (Nugs) have 3 good defenders, and then goes out and puts up 30 on them. It’s kind of like a clasy way of saying “but it don’t matter, they can’t stop me”.

    Having said that, I thing Denver’s plan of letting Dirk get his and not doubling him is the right way to go. He kills you off the double team (see: Spurs, San Antonio).

    I think the next two games will be very interesting. Can the Mavs shore up their paint defense? Can the Nugs keep their transition game going? Who will pick up the scoring for Dallas (they need more than Dirk and JET), can Howard play and be effective? Can Nene keep getting 24+ points a game?

    Oh well, another day to wait…