“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
The Mavs’ season ended not with a bang nor a whimper, but with the sigh of a team that just didn’t have enough. The Nuggets were the better basketball team, and they played like it. That’s why, for the first time in a long while, I rested easy after the Mavs bowed out of the postseason. There was no implosion and there was no letdown. Although we Mavs fans were holding onto the hope of another Western Conference Finals, they should be able to find solace in the way these Mavs fought and the way that Dirk thrived.
All the credit in the world has to go to the Denver Nuggets. The Mavs were a good basketball team playing their best basketball at the right time, but the Nuggets are a superior basketball team playing even better basketball with more two-way consistency. Personally, I’m ecstatic every time I get to watch the player that Carmelo Anthony is morphing into. Something about his game was both equally troubling and appealing, and to see him do away with the silly turnovers and the forced shots is to see him morph into an incredible basketball player. He showed every bit of that transformation in this series, and put the cherry on top in Game 5 with 30 points on 13-22 shooting (he had to miss 6 straight attempts to fall to that mortal mark). Melo will never be the playmaker (read: LeBron) that some wished he would be, but I sincerely doubt that many will be disappointed with his finished product.
Chauncey Billups (28 points on 10-16 shooting, 12 assists, 7 rebounds) made the point guard match-up a bit of a joke. While the Mavs’ veteran floor general was ignoring easy layup opportunities, being caught in the air with nowhere to go, and getting completely abused by a fairly rudimentary two-man trap in the half-court, Chauncey was doing more than his fair share to push the Nuggets over the edge. His shots were timely and brutal, and the lack of mistakes in his decision making was a perfect way for Billups to put his stamp on this series.
But before I get too gushy about the Nuggets’ stars, let’s not forget our own. Dirk Nowitzki finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, and the rest of the team simply could not carry the burden of doing the rest. Dirk was positively glorious. He was drawing fouls on any Nugget that dare try to defend him, and when Dirk wasn’t waltzing his way to the free throw line he was draining jumpers that barely touched net. Though his 5 turnovers are quite uncharacteristic, I think he’s done more than enough to absolve himself. After all Dirk has done to carry the Mavs this season and this postseason, he’s certainly earned that much.
The Mavericks’ defense was undoubtedly their downfall. Though it’s easy to point the finger to the careless turnovers or flubbed offensive possessions, you hardly even need to single out the atrocious transition defense and nearly as miserable half-court execution. The perimeter defense just isn’t good enough to stay with quality NBA players, and the Mavs lack the type of help side defenders that can compensate for that weakness. The result is layups, and dunks, and free throws, which are a bit easier than the Mavs’ jumpers. Dirk is a fantastic jumpshooter, but he can hardly keep pace with a Nugget layup drill.
Jason Kidd (19 points, 9 assists, 5 turnovers, 5 threes) had a tough time running the offense, and couldn’t stay in front of Chauncey Billups to save his life. But to Kidd’s credit, he came out in the second half ready to make a difference. The Mavs trimmed their 10-point deficit in a jiffy, in large part to Kidd hitting open three after open three. It was a nice second half effort to step up as Dirk’s scoring bro, but needless to say I expected a more complete game (and series) from Kidd.
Brandon Bass (17 and 7) was great, and J.J. Barea (7 points on 3 of 5 shooting) played some good minutes to spell Kidd during his turnover phase. Unfortunately for both of them, J.R. Smith (18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) was better. How many momentum-killing long threes did Smith hit in this series? He can shoot from the damn parking lot.
The Mavs had chances to win this game, but here’s the important thing: they earned those chances. Dallas sprinted out of the gate to a quick lead, but eventually ceded it to the Nuggs. Then they fought back several times in the second half, only to be held at arm’s length by a Carmelo three or a J.R. heartbreaker. But this outcome is something the Mavs should have been expecting since Game 2, and rightfully so. Congrats to the Nuggets, but plenty of congratulations to the Mavs for putting up a helluva fight, staying within reach, and hoping for a miracle. The fact that it never came doesn’t make their effort any less impressive.
- Dear Jason Kidd, You need to eliminate the jump pass from your brain. I don’t want you to be able to perform that action anymore. Know who you’re going to pass to, stay on your feet, and be a damn point guard. Love, Rob.
- Chris Andersen was rendered a non-factor in the last two games he actually played, largely because Dirk was very aware of his presence. Andersen tried to swoop in on several occasions for a weak side block on Dirk, only to find Nowitzki waiting patiently to draw the foul. Great stuff as always from Dirk.
- This was not a good series for Jason Terry. I might go as far as to say that this was the worst playoff run of his career. Rick threw him into the starting lineup, and it did a whole lot of nothing.
- Can someone explain to me how Anthony Carter got three offensive rebounds, all of which were around the basket?
- Great season, guys.