Oh, you led the league in blocks? Cool story, bro.. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Every year that you don’t win, you lose. In the NBA, it happens a lot. In a way, Michael Jordan ruined it for all of us (or Bill Russell for you oldtimers), because dominance isn’t a thing. Larry Bird, great as he was, won three championships. Hakeem won two. Most of the time, no matter how great you are, there’s somebody just as great with better teammates.
In our narrative obsessed world, we always have to know as a matter of coursewhose window has closed, who’s next, who’s not ready. We think we know it from one game, sometimes, or one series. We don’t of course. The Spurs were done. Now they’re obviously not. In 2009, the Mavericks were done. Then they weren’t. It’s gotta be the Thunder’s time, or the Heat. Unless it isn’t.
But here’s what I remember. Before the Mavericks finally won it all.
I remember that it seemed like we could never catch a break. I know, intellectually, that that’s not true. That and-one over Manu should never have happened. Another game earlier in that series, if I recall correctly, the Spurs had a chance to win on an inbounds play where nobody ended up with the ball. Just got away from somebody and rolled across the court till time ran out. If I remember correctly. But there’s always going to be Antoine Wright not managing to foul Carmelo. That's what you remember.
I remember that the refs were always against us. I really have no idea if every fan base feels this way, and maybe they do. It’d be pretty hard, one images, for fans of the Lakers to feel that way, or anyone who’s ever watched Utah at home, but I’m sure it happens. I’m not kidding at all when I say that my dad, who watched the Mavs from day one in Dallas, hasn’t much watched basketball since 2006 and I don’t blame him. The power the refs have over a game, and the variance in the way they call it—I’m sure that there’s little enough to be done about this—can certainly spoil a basketball game.
And I remember, too, that the other team always had something. Steve Kerr lighting us up, or Dejuan Blair and Antonio McDyess owning the boards or whatever. Last night, the barrage we sustained from Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins brought back a lot of memories. Some scrub.
It happened FOR the Mavericks one time that I can recall, in the series-losing game against the Spurs two years ago where a fresh-into-the-league Roddy B came in and made up a huge deficit by himself. The Mavericks would lose that game, and two years later, no one imagined that Roddy would still be largely unable to crack a playoffs roster. The Spurs get Kawhi Leonard. The Mavs get Dominique Jones.
Let them eat Dominique Jones.
I know I forget, when I look back, things like Chris Webber’s knee injury. I remember instead that the Mavericks might have had a third Finals trip, themselves, if it weren’t for a Dirk knee injury on their first close call. I forget the Calvin Booth tip in, the happiest I’ve ever been as a Mavericks fan until last year, because I didn’t expect anything and I got something. I was just that happy with the Rangers World Series run two years ago, and miserable with their run last year. Expectations.
It seems like the Mavs always get beat up on national television in the regular season. It seems like the Mavs always get pantsed in the playoffs. Granted, they have more first round losses than any of the great teams of the last ten years. Granted it sucks that the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks have combined for around 1500 regular season victories in the last decade, and 7 championships (10 if you go back 13 years), and just one of those is the Mavericks. That’s what I remember, when we lose a game like we lost last night.
Memory. It’s powerful stuff. And I feel now, like I feel then. But you know what?
It’s not really true. None of it.
Yes, I recognize referees instantly now, a skill I wish I didn’t have and could never have imagined evolving before a few years ago. But what’s true?
What’s true is that the Mavericks are the only one superstar team in the league, maybe in league history that has been this good for this long. This year, with these two games, they are overperforming, not underperforming, and they have been overperforming and not underperforming for years.
They should have won two championships, without absolute travesty, and could have won three without injury. And right now, we are watching, with great pain, something amazing.
Any NBA reporter will tell you that Kevin Durant is a better player than Dirk Nowitzki. But in two playoff games? Dirk is 18 of 37 for 56 points and Kevin Durant is 15 of 44 for 51. And Dirk is doing it against the Thunder’s coterie of active, long, athletic defenders whereas if Durant is against anybody but Marion, it should be roast city. If you looked at last year’s series, it’d be the same thing, of course.
And any NBA reporter will tell you that there isn’t a second player on the Mavericks close to Westbrook, and there isn’t one as good as Harden. But in a game where so much went right for the Thunder, they’ve won by 4 points total.
The basketball gods smile on this stuff. They do and that’s why last year, they called David Stern and told him, for once, don’t sic your referees on them. They told the injury gods to keep off, and the Jason Terry gods to do something about that horrendous decision making. They gifted the Mavericks with Tyson Chandler, and they gave Deshawn his shot back.
There was a ring, and it was over the arch-enemy---the arch-enemies, if you count the Lakers. They brought the Spurs low, made them taste the humiliation that has always been ours. They took the right team to beat and supersized them, so the victory would be supersized, so for five minutes everybody in the damn world would stand on their damn rooftops and shout, Ich Bin Ein Maverick.
Straight talk? For real? Any definition of tanking you want to use, the Mavericks brain trust decided that the Mavericks would tank this year. It wasn’t a more moral or less smart decision than for any other team that’s doing it out there—Cubes and Donny saw the writing on the wall and deliberately, deliberately, this Mavericks team is much worse than it could have been this year. It has won less games than it could have won this year. It is less of a title threat than it might have been, this year.
But if you saw Dirk’s one man second quarter comeback last night, you’ve seen what pride is and what righteous wrath can do. Yeah, Nick Young did the same thing for the Clippers two nights ago, but you know what? No one’s guarding Nick Young. The Thunder threw everything at Dirk, and he just turned it into And-Ones. Did you see it? Did you see the shot that Vince hit, to give the Mavs a brief lead? Did you see how Terry came out in game one?
Another truth: If you have seen Shawn Marion’s defense on Kevin Durant this series, you’ve seen the series. Kevin Durant has every advantage in the world on Shawn Marion. He’s taller, quicker, more athletic, and younger. He’s the three time scoring champion and he can score in more ways than anyone in the league. And he is getting smothered by someone 10 years his senior, giving up two inches and a hell of a lot of speed.
Yes, it’s been enough to win. Obviously, it’s been enough for the Thunder to win two games, and it was Durant over Marion that won the first. But this is a Mavericks offense that could, on some nights, be fairly called terrible and a Thunder offense that could fairly be called a juggernaut. This is a Mavericks defense that could kindly be called slow and a Thunder defense that can be called scrambling. It’s JUST enough to win. It’s lucky for them it’s been that much.
The Dallas Mavericks might not win this series. In all probability, they’re not good enough. And there’s no guarantee that the next few games will be this close, either—it’s a real shame that the only good first round series could end in a sweep, but the Mavericks certainly haven’t lost these last two because of poor performances. The East, as I’ve said repeatedly, is poop.
But they’ve made me proud of them. And they’ve made me remember. And if the Thunder win a championship, this year or the next, they’ll remember who taught them about championship basketball. Once by showing them you don’t prance in front of a champion. And now, once, by showing them that you don’t win a championship. You survive it.
Nothing is the end of anything until it is, and that’s true for this series, and that’s true for the Mavericks’ success. If you think Dirk is too old, you didn’t watch last night. And you won’t find anyone in the Thunder locker room who thinks so.
I remember when everything went right for the Mavericks. And no one can take that away from me. And now, I'll remember how hard a bunch of old and outmatched guys fought an uber-talented team--and one way or another, taught them what championships are. Even if it’s the Year the Mavericks Didn’t Have Enough.