An Ode to Jason Terry

 

Jason Terry crossed over after driving to the baseline.

He took a dribble back, with Tim Duncan cutting off his route to the rim. As Duncan encroached, Terry took another dibble backward. With the shot clock spiraling down and the Dallas Mavericks leading 121-118, Terry hoisted a shot.

The ball floated from his hands as it arched high above Duncan’s reach. The American Airlines Center seemed to collectively breathe in and hold its breath. Gravity took control as the ball fell from its high point and splashed through the net with 38 seconds left.

Swish.

Dallas prevailed. Terry scored 32 points; the Mavs had a 3-1 series lead against the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals.

It was May 15, 2006. And Jason Terry could do no wrong.

  

For the first time in about a decade, the Mavericks were scrambling for a point guard. Blessed by the brilliance of Jason Kidd and then Steve Nash, Dallas always had its floor leaders and pretty damn good ones at that.

But Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson were ready to go in a different direction in the summer of 2004. Steve Nash was left to sign with Phoenix with Cuban deciding to open his pocketbook for Erick Dampier, fresh off his double-double campaign with Golden State.

Behind the scenes, Cuban and coach Don Nelson began to spat and when Nelson campaigned to get Antoine Walker on the team in sacrifice of the Mavs’ only true center, the fall out turned a 60-win, conference finals team into a 52-win, first round flameout.

I can only imagine that Cuban was fed up with Nelson’s experiments, as the Mavs lacked any identity or focus with Walker starting over the much more efficient Antwan Jamison. The move to essentially grab up Dampier instead of Nash was a jab to Nelson’s basketball philosophy. The message was clear from Cuban – we tried your way, now we’re going to do it another.

There wasn’t much on the market before the 2004-2005 season, point guard wise. With Walker already wearing out his welcome after just one year (shimmy or no shimmy – he was just awful) Dallas instead opted to flip him for Jason Terry – a shoot first, shoot a little more and shoot after that point guard.

The move made more sense when you considered the direction of the Mavs’ offense. Dirk was blossoming into the all-around 1-on-1 machine we know him as today, and the foundation of the Mavericks heavy isolation sets was, well, beginning to form, especially so after Dallas shipped away Jamison for Jerry Stackhouse and a draft pick that would turn into Devin Harris. The Mavs had their point guard of the future; so all Terry had to do was not screw up, not implode.

Instead, he shined. Terry posted effective field goal percentages of 57 and 54.7 in his first two years with the Mavs. Fitting in nicely with Dirk Nowitzki, Terry instantly filled Nash’s pick-and-pop roll flawlessly. Terry never had the creativity that Nash had in the open floor, but he possessed a jump shot that was just as good.

Even though the spacing wasn’t that great with the spotty shooting of fellow perimeter mates Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Adrian Griffin and then Shawn Marion, the duo still put the Mavericks near the top of the charts in offensive rating.

And while Terry played second fiddle to Dirk as they stormed to the NBA Finals in 2006, Terry won over the Dallas media and the fan base. He instantly struck a vibe with all the Nick Van Exel diehards by his colorful personality and being a quote machine.

It’s one thing the big three Mavericks never really had – an outgoing personality. Nash, Nowitzki and Michael Finely all handled their business in different ways and for the most part, gave the same answers to the same questions they were asked night after night.

But Terry was clearly different, even from the first season in Dallas. Whether he was detailing how the Mavericks shouldn’t be playing down to their opponents or taking it upon himself to say how he needed to be clutch, every reporter always flocked to Terry. He provided the sound bite which couldn’t have been farther from Nowitzki, who would prefer if he was never the focal point of any media session.

Terry was one of the poster boys for the Mavericks new philosophy after the Nash era –  a tough team with swagger that would talk trash and back it up with big fourth quarters. It might have been hyperbole but the culture of Dallas was changing, and it’s hard not to look to Terry as the epicenter of that change.

But it soon came crashing down on Terry and the Mavs in June of 2006. A little more than a month after helping Dallas get through the Spurs, Gary Payton of the Miami Heat drilled an elbow jumper to give the Heat a three point lead, his only basket of the night in Game 6, with the Mavs down three games to two.

Terry quickly got the ball up the court and heaved as the clock expired.

Clang.

The ball bounced off the back rim and the Heat celebrated. It was one of Terry’s 18 misses. A year later, Terry would be seen getting the ball taken from him from Baron Davis, as his weaknesses as a playmaker and floor general would be part of the 67-win Mavericks demise in the first round.

The hangover would be great. Dallas continued to limp out of the playoffs every year, a first round exit two of the next three seasons. Devin Harris was shipped out and Terry continued to struggle, as he posted PERs of 16.3, 12 and 11.8 after the first round disaster against the Warriors (and he had a 12.5 PER in those playoffs to boot). The arrival of Jason Kidd did nothing to change Terry’s play in the postseason. It culminated with his 1-for-7 performance in Game 6 against the Spurs in the 2010 playoffs. Playing the important minutes of the fourth quarter instead of Rodrigue Beaubois, Terry fizzled down the stretch. His play as meager as the Mavericks’ future.

It was April 29, 2010. And Jason Terry could do nothing right.


*****

Terry’s redemption in the 2011 playoffs had an interesting turn. After seemingly snapping out of his personal playoff demons against the Lakers, Terry sloshed through the conference finals, shooting under 40 percent from Games 2-5. The Mavericks overall team brilliance (and Dirk’s as well) overshadowed that Terry had regressed to what he was in the playoffs up until that point – a scoring point guard that couldn’t score. A two-guard trapped in a point guard’s body. A failure to talk the talk and walk the walk.

Despite his late-game heroics in Game 2, Terry was still 13-for-34 after the first three games of the NBA Finals. Terry’s funk had grown to the point that even Dirk was forced to call out Terry’s crunch-time ability.

For once, one of Terry’s teammates was barking at him. For once, it wasn’t Terry making any bold statements. It wasn’t Terry providing the sound bite that would run on websites, newspapers and TV. Terry was being called out by the one player who rarely – if not ever—did such a thing. Terry’s response? Talk an even bigger game. Big, even for Jason Terry.


Terry declared that LeBron James could not guard him for a seven game series, despite James smothering him for three games already. With the Mavericks looking lifeless in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and Dirk sick, it was Terry who finally lived up to his claims.

He drove past James twice in a row, getting tough baskets in the paint that Dallas fans had been pleading for him to do for years. He awoke the crowd and allowed Dirk to clinch the game.


In Game 5, Terry almost single-handily dismantled the Heat, as with the Mavs down 100-97 in the fourth, he rattled off a three pointer, an assist to Dirk that lead to a dunk, a gorgeous pass to Jason Kidd for a three and then to cap it off, perhaps the most brash shot Terry has made in his career – a shot-clock expiring rainbow three pointer over the outstretched arms of James …with a good two feet behind the arc for good measure.

It was Game 6 that saw Terry – not Dirk – carry the Mavs throughout the entire game. Dirk’s final shots might have stole the highlight shows, but it was Terry’s careful and deadly shot selection in the first three quarters that kept the Mavericks afloat without its MVP playing to his level.


Terry pulled up in transition, he pulled up off the dribble, he found himself at the rim. Terry was a one-man show, seemingly eradicating every failure that stood behind him.

Maverick fans had become tired of Terry’s bit. His big talk only led to bigger disappointment. All the talk made the moment that much sweeter. As Terry shook off an over-matched Eddie House with every crossover, the other Mavericks followed suite. Once Dirk finally took the keys from Terry in the fourth quarter, the Mavericks championship ride was safely parked in the winners’ circle.

Terry’s playoff PER of 20.3 was his highest of the playoffs. He was 19-for-28 with eight assists and just two turnovers in Games 5 and 6. A lot can be said about Tyson Chandler and what he changed for Dallas. But even more can be said about the Mavericks second-leading scorer having a career playoff year, providing the complimentary scoring that was sorely needed without Caron Butler.


As Nowtizki raised his Finals MVP trophy, Terry stood off to the side of the stage, watching with playful admiration. He didn’t speak on the big stage. He didn’t have to. The man who tattooed the NBA trophy to his bicep before the season started didn’t have a word to say as Cuban, Rick Carlisle and Nowitzki were interviewed at center court on the stage.

It was June 12, 2011. And Jason Terry was an NBA champion.

*****

 

(All stats from Basketball Reference

 

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