You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- The Mavs will leave Portland wondering what could have been. After coughing up a very winnable Game 3, Dallas concluded Game 4 by surrendering a 23-point second half advantage in most implosive fashion. On the bright side: the series isn’t over, despite the appeal of hyperbolic overreaction. On the down side: the series isn’t over, and Dallas wasted two distinct opportunities to effectively end it. Many Mavs fans are understandably shaken following the team’s incredible second half letdown on Saturday, but the series is only beginning; at two wins apiece, Dallas and Portland have only shortened the contest after resetting the balance. There are more opportunities still, and two more games to be played in the comfort of American Airlines Center. It may be hard to find optimism in such dire times as these, but those still pulling for Dallas should embrace the self-contained nature of each playoff game. There’s a natural momentum and course to the series as a whole, but as long as the Mavs can clear their heads and prepare adequately, there’s no reason why any of Game 4′s maladies should linger into Game 5 or beyond. Look forward, if only because looking back into the core of a team that blows a 23-point lead may be a bit too depressing.
- The biggest swings came in the third and fourth quarters. The Mavs completely dominated the third with their performance on both ends of the court. Thanks to a balanced offense and a stifling defense, Dallas was able to rattle off separate 10-0 and 9-0 runs on their way to a 30-14 frame. It’s no coincidence that Shawn Marion was heavily involved in the Maverick offense in that 12 minutes. Marion finished with eight points and seven rebounds in the quarter alone, marks made even more impressive by the game’s slow pace. He went to work on the left block — as Marion is ought to do, when given the opportunity — and scored over a cast of undersized defenders. It’s obviously not quite so easy for Marion to back down Gerald Wallace from the block, but Marion’s effectiveness in this stretch begs for the same commitment to exploiting his matches. When Jason Kidd recognizes that Andre Miller has switched to cover Dirk Nowitzki, Kidd cuts off the play to get Nowitzki the ball. The same needs to be true of Marion; when he’s matched up with Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, or generally any player who isn’t Gerald Wallace or LaMarcus Aldridge, Marion needs to have an opportunity to work from the post. He’s the most reliable of all of the Mavs’ complementary scorers when working from that range, and his touches greatly enhanced Dallas’ third quarter production. Throw in eight points from Dirk, a quick-hitting six from Peja Stojakovic, and buckets from four other Mavericks, and the fruitful, widely distributed offense Dallas relied on in the third quarter began to take shape. The fourth period was a decidedly different story. One could see traces of the inevitable Blazers comeback at the end of the third, but the fourth quarter itself contained most of Portland’s incredible comeback. Brandon Roy (24 points, 9-13 FG, five assists, four rebounds) turned the game and the series off the dribble; the man without knees managed to drive past Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and DeShawn Stevenson in order to score and dish to his heart’s delight. To say this was “vintage Roy” or a “throwback performance” would be a bit misleading; on the court for the Blazers was the actual 2009 Roy, in the flesh, having taken the place of his limited future self. It’s the only logical explanation. He was in true superstar form once again, and had a fourth quarter for the ages, a feat which I — among many, I’d presume — didn’t think Roy was capable. This league is better when Roy is performing at an All-World level, and when removed from the context of a series-turning loss, his revival was as relishable as it was unexpected. Yet when viewed as a part of one of Dallas’ most notable playoff implosions, Roy’s 18 points and four assists in the fourth quarter were just brutal. The efficiency. The creation. The drives, the shots, the set-ups. Roy murdered the Mavs in cold blood on his home court, though Dallas certainly played a part in their own death. Dallas shot 5-of-17 for the quarter (including 1-of-8 from three-point range) while turning the ball over four times, and not all of that is attributed to Portland’s strong fourth quarter D. The Mavs forced the action. They gave Jason Terry too many opportunities, perhaps, and Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion too few — though even I’m not convinced that the greatest offensive errors were in shot distribution. What was certain is that Dallas couldn’t establish the offense when it was in desperate need of flow, and could have — as they always could, really — operated through Nowitzki even more diligently. Simply: when the Mavs needed real execution, they fell. Some of the quality shots and passes and cuts and drives simply didn’t produce points, and that deficiency paired with the complete inability to defend Roy and the handful of giveaways limited the lifespan of the Mavs’ lead. Rest in peace, Game 4. Hopefully your benefactors won’t soon follow you to the grave.