For the Trail Blazers, any attempt to completely stop Dirk Nowitzki was misguided, to say the least. Instead, the containment plan was used, and was greatly effective...for 45 minutes. And then it was closing time, and it was all over.
Dirk contributed all eleven Maverick points in the final 3:36 of the fourth quarter, starting with back to back field goals that gave the Mavericks a double digit lead while forcing Nate McMillan to use a timeout, as the game was wrenched from Portland's grasp. The German assassin had struggled through much of the previous three quarters, and even parts of the early fourth, shooting just 6/18 before his eruption late. But it appeared to just be a matter of time, and when it counted the most, Dirk came through in front of an emotionally charged American Airlines Center crowd, featuring both his father and his mentor Holger Geschwindner, and carried the Mavericks with his 33 points.
The Mavericks trailed by two at the end of the first quarter, and again at the half. However, thanks to a nine point outburst by Jason Kidd at the start of the 2nd half, the Mavericks were able to take the lead and hold it the rest of the game. Fans and analysts alike dismissed his 24 point Game 1 on 9/14 shooting as an anomaly, not to be repeated, but Kidd delivered for the second game in a row with 18 points for the game.
Early in the fourth quarter with the shot clock at one, a corner three pointer was drained by Marcus Camby, who had just sixteen total makes in his fifteen seasons in the NBA, and none for the Blazers. This brought them within two, and appeared as if it could be a momentum shifter. However, Dirk answered with a catch and shoot mid range jumper with no hesitation, and Peja Stojakovic followed with a three pointer on the next possession, neutralizing Portland's last real threat.
The Usual Suspects To Take Center Stage
- I gave Dirk plenty of love for shutting the Blazers down late, but one aspect of his clutch fourth quarter play which is bound to be overlooked was his defense. Dirk gave complete effort, swatting a LaMarcus Aldridge shot away as the weak side help defender, deflecting a pass that would have led to a easy Portland layup, and leading the increased defensive effort during those final few minutes that throttled any last hope of a comeback away, most evident when a shot clock violation was forced with just over four minutes to play. Dirk has improved tremendously.
- One of the key story lines headed into Tuesday night was the Mavericks 2-16 record when Danny Crawford reffed a Mavericks playoff game. However, the Mavericks were able to break the typical Tuesday night. Early on, it appeared as if it might be the same old same old; Chandler committed a questionable offensive foul early in the first, giving him two, and Shawn Marion had to sit down mid-way through, also with two fouls. Chandler was given a technical for venting his frustration over the call, and even Dirk was getting into the officials' ears when he was called for a charge when it appeared the Blazer was still shifting. However, the officials stayed relatively lonely in the 2nd half, with very few players aggressively protesting calls one way or the other, and the Mavericks were able to move their record to 3-16
The Spotlight Surprises
- Peja Stojakovic has been called an x-factor on this team, and demonstrated why when his crisp outside shooting seemed to add a completely different dimension to the Mavericks, at times. Peja hit five of his ten three point attempts, but was also able to contribute inside the arc with a couple jumpers and a running floater. One thing is clear: he is fearless. Hesitation is not part of his game; if he is open, he will shoot it. And as long as he hits them like this, no one will have a second thought about it.
- Jose Barea had an up and down game. His first half was truly awful, forcing several shots (including a transition three pointer which still baffles me) and committing a terrible turnover. In the fourth, though, he scored all six of his points, energizing the Mavericks and letting Kidd get valuable gulps of oxygen on the sideline. Still, he showed his main liability when he allowed Andre Miller to blow by him despite there being just seconds left on the shot clock. He left the game shortly after that play.
- The Mavericks committed no turnovers in their final 27 minutes of gameplay. For a team that had been plagued with turnovers late in the year, this is an amazing stat. Only six turnovers overall, half of Portland's final total.
The Mavericks will fly out to Portland to play Game 3, Thursday night at 9:30 Central on TNT. While its true that the Mavericks do have the upper hand and the momentum, they cannot assume for a second that this series is over. Portland is a dangerous road team (the Mavericks were 0-2 on the road in Portland this year) with explosive players, and a crowd that is just waiting for a thunderous alley oop to exceed 130 dB. A few things that I would watch for in Game 3 is whether or not the Mavericks will be able to establish some more inside scoring with Marion and/or Chandler. With all due respect to Peja and Kidd, shooting in itself is an unpredictable beast, so having Marion able to put up points from the low post, or having Chandler thunder an alley oop or two back at Aldridge would be a great step in the right direction, for this series and hopefully the next.