The Dallas Mavericks have done what literally no one predicted they would do: they swept the Los Angeles Lakers, winning the final game by an astounding margin, 122-86. They did so on the shoulders of their diminutive bench, and with some of the best defense they've played all year. At no point in this game was the victory in question, despite some questionable plays from an understandably frustrated Lakers team. This was not the way we expected the champs to go down, but it certainly is a nice surprise.
In the first three games, Kobe Bryant had ONE layup and ZERO dunks. This game, he started off well offensively, going 3-4 and giving the Lakers 7 of their first 11 points. The Mavericks had a slower start, going 1 of 4, with the only basket being a three from DeShawn Stevenson. About four minutes in, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd both started looking spry, with Kidd dishing out three assists in the first seven minutes and Marion making some fancy moves in the lane for four points.
When the bench unit came in, Jose Barea, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry made an immediate impact. Barea was able to penetrate with ease, so he kicked the ball out, resulting in a made three by Terry. On the very next possession, Peja got himself a three ball. On the other end, Kobe still looked good, going 6-8 for 13 points. The rest of his team? Just 2-11. The Mavericks finished the quarter with the lead, 27-23.
In the early moments of the second quarter, Peja grabbed a steal and took the ball coast to coast for a layup. He gingerly grabbed his ailing back after the ball went in, but like a trooper, he stayed in the game. The Mavericks offense only seemed to get better as the period rolled on, with the bench continuing to go off. Jason Terry drained another three thanks to a crucial offensive rebound by Brendan Haywood. At the risk of becoming redundant, Jason Terry hit another three. And then another. And yes, another. Phil Jackson didn't even know what to do with his team, who looked straight up stagnant compared to Jet, Peja and the Mavs.
Even when the offense lost a little of its vigor, the defense kept the Mavericks on top, stretching the lead to 25 points as the quarter wound down. And for the record, the Mavericks finished the first half with 11 made three-pointers. You read that right.
Jason Terry finished the first half with 20 points. For a fourth-quarter guy, that's pretty damn good. And Peja Stojakovic, who many had all but given up on, contributed 12 points in the first half. Those two were the only Mavericks in double figures, and Kobe Bryant was the only Laker with more than 10. Dallas went into the locker room with a 63-39 lead.
Coming out of the locker room, we Mavs fans expected a bit of a lull in the ridiculous play, and we were just about right. They missed their first several shots and committed a few turnovers. Dirk Nowitzki was the only one to score for the Mavericks in the first five minutes. But then guess what happened? Jason Terry hit BACK TO BACK threes. With just under five minutes to play in the third, Kidd picked up his 4th foul and took a seat on the bench. Barea came back in the game and ran right to the basket for a layup.
Jason Terry, meanwhile, not to be outshone, hit his 9th three with three minutes to go in the third. Peja felt left out, so he, too, hit a three. The Mavericks' defense continued to stifle the Lakers, and they finished out the third quarter with a comfortable lead, up 86-62.
You know how I knew this game was going to end well? Brendan Haywood, who generally does not inspire confidence from the free throw line, hit both of his free throws. And then Dirk hit a three. And then Peja hit a three. The Lakers were understandably losing their patience, and Lamar Odom took his frustration out on Dirk with an intentional foul. He was ejected right away, and the game continued.
Then, in one of the most classless plays I've ever seen, Andrew Bynum gave JJ Barea the forearm shiver on his way up to the basket. Barea went down hard and was tended to by the medical staff as Bynum was escorted from the court. Barea, the tough little Puerto Rican, would make his and-1 free throw and stay in the game, and would even drive to the hoop and draw more fouls. He even got to contribute to the record-tying three point show.
In fact, this game was full of all sorts of records for the Mavericks. Jason Terry tied the record for most threes in a playoff game with nine. He and Stojakovic combined for a disgusting 15 of 16 three-pointers, by far the best for a two-man combo. The 49 three-pointers made in this four-game series were the most ever by a team. In this game alone, they tied the playoff record for most in a single game with 20. Maybe not a record, but Peja, Jet and Barea combined to score 75 points off the bench on 27 of 34 shooting. The bench as a whole threw up 86 points, which equaled the game total for the Los Angeles Lakers.
This win means more to the Dallas Mavericks than just advancing to the Western Conference Finals. They swept the two-time defending champions, in the final season of the greatest coach ever to lead a team in the NBA. They did it with grit and determination and clamp-down defense, all while being called soft by the entire sports community. They may have eight more games to win if they want to get that ring, but for now we can all sit back and revel in the glory of a massive accomplishment. I am SO proud of my Dallas Mavericks today.