“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
Our man Dirk sure knows how to put on a show.
In a game where the anarchy of flagrant and technical fouls ruled, Dirk was able to make order out of chaos. He was never involved in the game’s numerous entanglements, not once caught fuming with uncontrollable anger or demonstrating anything but the desperation and calculated resolve that makes him such a force. The result? Dirk poured in for 19 in the fourth quarter, the importance of which is amplified by the Mavs’ narrow margin of victory. The Mavs needed every single point to reel in a victory that desperately tried to escape their grasp. Though this time, no near-foul, heart-breaking shot, or referee could stand in their way.
Plus, how’s this for irony: the Mavs were feeding off of the energy of Antoine Wright wrapping up Carmelo Anthony in the way that he was ‘supposed to’ at the end of Game 3. After Anthony grabbed an offensive rebound early in the second quarter with the Nuggets nursing a 14-point lead, Antoine Wright wrapped up his arms to foul him on the floor. For seconds after the whistle blew, Wright refused to let go of Anthony’s arm. Carmelo wasn’t all too pleased about that, and responded by trying to push AW off, only to maybe possibly kind of catch a bit of Wright’s cheek. The implications of which were much more significant than a simple technical foul; the Mavs and the crowd were awakened to fight off the surging Nuggs, and a game that seemed destined for a blowout was suddenly altered into a competitive affair.
The Dirk takeover had commenced, and it was really one of those nights. One of those nights where Dirk’s greatness can hardly be quantified, but also one of those nights where the numbers (44 points on 25 shots, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 16-17 FT) turn out quite beautifully. Dirk’s attack was as captivating as it was methodical, as he used every trick in his book and then some to lure the Nuggets’ defenders into fouls, including an insatiable desire to score at the rim. K-Mart, Nene, Melo, whatever; Dirk took advantage of whoever was guarding him, turning every matchup into a problem with his footwork, balance, and silky smooth jumper. More coming on Dirk in a later post.
Carmelo Anthony (41 points on 29 shots, 11 rebounds, 5 steals) provided the perfect foil for Dirk. Whereas Dirk’s moves were calm, planned, and deliberate, Melo’s game represented the brash improvisation and spontaneity that makes him such an effective scorer. His pull-up jumpers were exclamation points, and each steal and subsequent fast break dunk a flurry of its own. Melo’s night was exemplified by his clutch, hard-hitting three pointer with just seconds remaining, a chilling reenactment of his Game 3 shot that pulled a seeminglysafe four-point lead into an ever-vulnerable two-point one. I’m just glad that this time around, that shot was dangerous and not deadly. It’s also certainly worth noting that J.R. Smith went absolutely hog wild on huge, game-changing jumpers. Some of his attempts deserved to go in and other’s didn’t (a certain straight-on bank shot, perhaps?), but Smith bailed the Nuggs out of many a shot clock violation by hitting important shot after important shot.
Though Dirk was undoubtedly the shining star (and the Gold Star, hint-hint), he couldn’t have done it without some help from his friends. Josh Howard gimped his way to 21 points and 11 rebounds, and though his shot selection in the fourth very nearly cost the Mavs the game, they couldn’t have even been in this game without him. J.J. Barea (10 points, 5-8 FG) and Brandon Bass (11 points, 4-6 FG) were able to get easy baskets at difficult times, and Jason Terry (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) made his presence felt in spite of foul trouble. Roll all of that up into a ball with superior team defense (though you’d never guess it based on Carmelo’s totals), a much more dependable Jason Kidd, and world’s finest Dirk Nowitzki, and you’ve got yourself a win.
Sad team defense is often tough to point out in the box score, but it was clear that in these last two games, the Mavs were much more willing to prevent Denver’s transition attack and contest many (notably not all) of the Nuggets’ attempts in the paint. Of course that starts with the perimeter guys — Kidd, Howard, Wright, Terry, Barea — but relies on the rotation of bigs like Dampier, Bass, and Dirk to make things work. This is one area in particular where I thought Dirk Nowitzki excelled, and though his individual defense may not have received any of the spotlight, his effectiveness on that end should not go unnoticed. He and Bass proved that they can work together as a defensive tandem and still be effective, which means quite a bit for the team’s most efficient offensive frontcourt.
- Please, please, please, NBA, have some consistency with the flagrant calls. The Mavs were called for two very iffy flagrants to finish the 2nd quarter, one of which, combined with a technical arguing the play and a Melo bucket, turned a 5-point deficit into a 10-point one at the buzzer. I remain convinced the fouls on Kleiza and J.R. Smith were just that, fouls.
- The Birdman didn’t suit up for this one due to some severe stomach cramps.
- I’d feel bad if I didn’t single out Brandon Bass by name for praise for his defense. Erick Dampier racked up six fouls in just 23 minutes, so Bass played a huge role in keeping Nene to a very mortal 9 points and 8 rebounds. Essentially, Nene has been the difference between a nail-biter and a blowout for the Nuggets. When he’s on his A-game, they can just roll over teams. But when a physical defender really digs in and gives him trouble, their offense can really struggle.
- The Mavs won the battle of the offensive boards 9-6 and got the win. That’s no coincidence.
Guys, I take 100% of the blame for how this series is going. Damp was posting his pre-game comments here for the first round, and obviously our record in those games speaks for itself. For the second round I decided to cut his feature, despite my better judgment. For Game 3, I strongly considered bringing it back, only to change my mind at the last second. The effects of that decision are fairly obvious.
So without further ado, Mr. Dampier:
- Just one more note on the not-so-imaginary foul before we move on, and only because Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com makes a very sound point: “‘Hammering’ can get you a game-losing flagrant. Even ‘wrapping up’ can result in…a shooting foul…is Antoine Wright supposed to guess if the refs: Are in the Kobe Mood – where he can throw a chin-high elbow and have the foul be called on the other guy’s chin? Are in the Dwight Howard Mood – where an elbow earns a one-game suspension? Are in the Ron Artest Mood – where he gets an ejection for going too aggressively for the ball? Are in the Kenyon Martin Mood – where he gets a slap on the wrist for a goal-line tackle? Are in the Derek Fisher Mood – where he gets in immediate ejection for a thrown shoulder? Are in the Rajon Rondo Mood — where he must have to draw blood twice to get truly penalized? Are in the Zaza Pachulia Mood – where he gets an ejection for … talking? That’s too subjective. That’s too arbitrary. Wright cannot be expected to guess at whether Messrs. Wunderlich, Salvatore and Mauer had a bad night’s sleep, are feeling grumpy or…whatever.”
- Okay, okay, one LAST LAST thing, from Woodie Paige of The Denver Post: “The referees, the source said, were ‘not upset by the league’s announcement, but (they) believe it was the correct noncall in that situation.’ According to the source, one of the referees said: ‘If they think we missed the call, that’s their decision.’”
- Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News: “All that remains for the Mavs is to show us the depth of their personal pride, because Game 4 is merely a formality. This series is over. No NBA team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit. The Mavs won’t be the first. Don’t forget, Denver has beaten Dallas seven straight times. No, this series wouldn’t have a different feel if the Mavs had won Game 3. Yes, there would’ve been a sliver of hope for the Mavs, but Dallas has never had control of a single game. The Mavs played as hard as they could in Game 3. They attacked the basket, resulting in 49 free throws. They committed just 10 turnovers. They limited Denver to 42 percent shooting. They even dominated the battle of the benches for the first time. Still, the Mavs never led by more than six points. And they made just enough errors to find a creative way to lose.”
- Rick Carlisle, via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “You’ve got to be honest and study the things you could have done better over the course of the entire game…The two areas we’re going to have to improve on are dribble penetration and second shots. We do better in those areas, then it doesn’t come down to an official’s call or the lack of a call…We talked about the position we’re in and why tomorrow is important. It’s pretty simple at this point. There are some adjustments you can make, but the whole adjustment thing diminishes as you get three or four games into a series. We need to get on the board and go from there.”
- Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “During the postgame chaos after Saturday’s Nuggets-Mavericks game, Dallas owner Mark Cuban had a brief but heated confrontation with Lydia Moore, the mother of Denver’s Kenyon Martin, who was seated near the tunnel that leads to the Mavs’ locker room. Cuban said Sunday by e-mail that when he walked off the court, a fan was screaming about the Nuggets being ‘thugs,’ so Cuban said to Martin’s mother: ‘That includes your son.’…Cuban said by e-mail he knew Martin’s mother, because after a previous game that Denver won, she had approached him and made trash-talk-type comments.”
- Apparently Dirk’s lady friend is guilty of more than we ever thought.
I’m sure that at this point another viewing of Carmelo’s three isn’t necessary, but in case you’re in the mood for some parody (hat tip to reader Andrew B.):
Also, a little note that you may or may not find interesting. Last night the betting line on combined points was 209.5…which you’ll notice is just a basket below the final outcome of 211. With the score sitting at 105-103 advantage Mavs, those betting on the under win the day. But one no-call and a Carmelo three later (although any basket would have done the trick), ‘over’ bettors are suddenly in the money. It’s not a scandal, and certainly no conspiracy, but it certainly does put an interesting spin on last night’s events.
- Art Garcia of NBA.com: “Wright said he didn’t want to make any extra contact in case Anthony was about to shoot, which would have led to three foul shots. ‘What do you want me to do? Do you want me to Derek Fisher him, just take him out and then I get a flagrant foul late in the game,’ Wright fumed. ‘I can’t blatantly run through the guy. I have to try to make a play on the ball and that’s what I felt like I did. I didn’t want to jeopardize my team in any way by making a foolish foul.’” In the grand scheme of things, Wright is but a peon. Carmelo is an elite offensive player that tends to do amazing things in the final moments of games. Call me crazy, but I err on the Wright side of this debate. If AW is waiting for a whistle and one never comes, he has fractions of a second to react and scramble to contest the shot. In that scramble, the odds that he gets called for a foul are probably 50-50, despite what actually does or doesn’t happen. In a perfect world, should Wright have played out the sequence regardless of a whistle? Sure. Does that mean we should blame him for it? Hardly.
- Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Despite a controversial ending, let there be no Mavs crying, not after missing two free throws (one by Jason Terry, one by Josh Howard) in the final 2:12, among four clanged in the fourth quarter. Or when Dirk Nowitzki, who otherwise was very game, threw up a lame shot with 7.9 seconds left, which was a failure in three areas: No. 1, he missed. No. 2, Dirk didn’t milk the shot clock enough, leaving three critical seconds and 6.5 overall. No. 3, while guarded man-to-man by Kenyon Martin, he didn’t do what he had been doing much of the afternoon. Driving the rim hard, getting to the line.” There are millions of reasons why the Mavs ended up at 105 points, and plenty of those reasons are failures to complete certain tasks. Yes, Dirk should have milked the clock. Yes, he should’ve tried to get to the basket. And yes, the Mavs should’ve made their free throws. But essentially, the Mavs were penalized for regressing toward the mean. On the season, the Mavs as a team shot 81.6% on their free throws. They shot exactly that same percentage in Game 3. On the season, the Mavs as a team had 49 free throw attempts, which is almost double their regular season average. Dirk far exceeded his average attempts of 6.7 by shooting 15 free throws. It’s a pity that those already excellent marks were brought back down to earth by a failure to score in the final minutes, but the numbers would tell you that such a fall was inevitable. The Mavs had played well enough to endure that slip, but they were hardly afforded the chance to.
- Via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “If I was the league, I wouldn’t say that,” Dirk said Sunday. “I don’t think it makes anybody feel better. We don’t get the last seven seconds back, to kind of play it over again. So more than anything, I think it made it worse.” Sigh.
“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.
All indications point to Howard playing today, but your guess is as good as mine as to how effective he’ll be. Fingers crossed that the Mavs’ training staff was able to work a miracle in three days.
No Grapevine today, but I did want to pass along a link to the “RoundCast” I did with Will Brinson and Matt Watson at the FanHouse last night. It’s good times, as we talk a bit of Mavs-Nuggs, touch on Dirk’s personal troubles, and make our way to LeBron and the games tonight as well. Check it out, all the cool kids are doing it.
The Mavs’ playoff hopes are undoubtedly dimmed, but hardly extinguished. That said, a couple of sore, swollen ankles are hardly the support that a massive comeback needs.
There are plenty of reasons for Mavs fans to be frustrated. Be frustrated with the exact timing that brought Chauncey Billups and Josh Howard on a collision course to ANKLE DOOM. Be frustrated that the Nuggets are not a good matchup for the Mavs, and are playing a completely different level. Be frustrated that Jason Kidd has swapped brains with your rec league point guard prior to each fourth quarter.
But in spite of all the frustration and disappointment swirling around a team down 0-2, there are essentially two Mavs, in my mind, that get a free pass. Dirk Nowitzki is one, and for obvious reasons. The other is Josh Howard.
I’ve seen Josh’s name cursed aplenty, and some of those criticisms have held merit. But since Howard’s return from injury late in the regular season, I’ve had few problems with his game. Josh has played far from a perfect stretch, but his rebirth through fire, while still injured, no less, could not possibly have gone any smoother…until this series.
In a lot of ways, Josh hurting his other ankle could actually be worse than aggravating his already existing injury. At least in that case he’d have one leg on which to stand. For now, he’s left with two useless stumps that can’t quite plant, a state of limbo that allows him to stand but not move. He can probably jog up and down the court and do half-effective demonstrations of his normal movements, but asking a player with severely limited lateral movement to keep pace with Carmelo Anthony is just cruel. Though, it’s worth noting that Carmelo’s narrative seems to unfold in ways similar to Josh’s. Of course Josh wasn’t birthed into the league with a gold star on his back, he fashioned one of his own to remind the world of what they’re missing. Both of those stars have been thoroughly challenged by life away from the game and on-court limitations, but Carmelo seems to be genuinely moving into a new phase of his career.
Howard hasn’t evolved (like Melo), he’s merely returned. I think that’s an important distinction. Of course, that’s not to say that his return isn’t measured with a certain amount of progress. Nothing fundamentally Howard has changed, but in demonstrating the willingness to claw out of his scapegoat role, he has demonstrated the very same attributes that made him such a charismatic rookie. That makes for a pretty significant turnaround from his on-court shift and off-court series of unforunate decisions. I don’t know if the chip is officially back on Josh Howard’s shoulder, but he sure as hell has been playing like it is.
We’ve seen quite a bit of Josh Howard over his career with the Mavs. We’ve witnessed his emergence as a defender, a scorer, an All-Star, as a liability, a question mark, and a dilemma. But the Josh of a year ago is a ghost. He might still haunt you, but there’s no substance to the specter. Rather than partying the playoffs away or stirring up controversy, Howard has made absolutely no commotion over his willingness to endure pain, put off surgery, and play hard. J.J. Barea got his five minutes of fame in the San Antonio series, but make no mistake: the Mavs don’t win that series, and certainly not in five games, if Howard repeats his playoff performance of a year ago.
As basketball fans, we have a tendency to criticize players for what they’re not, rather than appreciate them for what they are. But this is one of those times where fans on the whole fail to acknowledge either. Josh isn’t a distraction and he isn’t disgruntled. He is valuable, productive, and energetic. Isn’t that enough? You shouldn’t have expected Josh to grow into LeBron, Wade, or Carmelo. He’ll just never be as talented or as dynamic as his draftmates. But right now, he’s doing everything that he can to help this team win games, and that deserves some respect. His performance and grit have been commendable on their own, but the juxtaposition of the 2008 Josh with the 2009 model makes it that much more impressive.
So I guess what I’m really getting at is this: don’t misconstrue injury for inconsistency or inefficiency. The mere fact that Josh was on the court when had every reason not to be is a testament to his will and his rebirth.