The Dallas Mavericks took on the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at the Staples Center, as the Mavericks hoped to end a 1-9 stretch in their last 10 games that I personally can't remember having occured in the Dirk Nowitzki era. For the first time in quite a while, Dallas entered this matchup as the major underdog, as the Clippers have taken the NBA by storm with a dominating first half of the season, while Dallas has faded despite the return of superstar Dirk Nowitzki.
In the first quarter, the Clippers would start strong, jumping out to an early advantage by attacking the interior of the Maverick defense where Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman have yet to really gel. Dallas would keep it close with a balanced attack that saw seven different player score, giving hope of staying competitive in a game that all of a sudden no-one expected the Mavs to win. A pair of Elton Brand free throws made it a four point game at the end of one at 25-21.
In the second, a relative free throw barrage(for a team close to the bottom of the league in foul-drawing) would see Dallas get to the line 12 times in the quarter, and that display helped them gradually close the gap, even tying the game on a wildly contorted shot(he's oddly good at those, no?) from Darren Collison that was immediately answered at the other end by Chris Paul with an equally difficult basket. The Clippers would lead 52-50 at halftime.
The third quarter would prove to be Dallas' best, as they came out of the locker room aggressive and thanks to a clear path foul that resulted in an unconventional O.J Mayo four-point possession, the veteran Mav squad would take the younger, athletic Clippers by surprise and jump ahead, stretching the lead to seven halfway through, and even taking a double-digit advantage with under two minutes left. The national audience was getting to see a tough, gritty Mavs take the fight to the favored team from L.A with crisp passing and strong interior defense. Perhaps this would be a signature win for the good guys; an oasis in a desert of disappointing come-from-ahead losses and embarrassing blowouts?
Sadly, the fourth saw the Clippers do what so many teams have done against Dallas: erase a late-lead and storm ahead in crunch time, stymying a limited offensive attack without Dirk Nowitzki on the floor, and controlling the glass on the defensive end by creating second chance opportunity after second chance opportunity. Dirk would string a few baskets together in a semblance of a valiant comeback effort, but it would have little effect and the Clippers would ice the game with, of all things, a pair of Caron Butler offensive rebounds that allowed L.A to milk the clock and put the game away with a pair of Chris Paul free throws. L.A 99, Dallas 93.
- This script is starting to write itself. Dallas, in the "with-Dirk" incarnation, has shown a capacity to fight back and keep things close, in contrast to the pre-DIrk Mavs that seemed to either have it or get blown out. Unfortunately, the schedule has not been kind. These teams are simply better, faster, stronger, and it is becoming more apparent as Dallas continues to fall on the outside of the playoff race looking-in.
- Not the strongest performance from Dirk tonight, though you did see a few of the patented fallaway jumpers we all miss. The German did his best, but his best does not yet look up to full speed, and in what I think might be a telling move Nowitzki did not check back in for the stretch run until the four and a half minute mark. Both he and O.J. were not able to assert their will, as great players must do for their teams to win important games.
- Though he missed an important corner three late, Darren Collison had a pretty nice game overall, and I think it should be taken notice of that in games against top competition it has often been Collison who elevates his play. If the rest of the team played like he did tonight, Dallas wouldn't be 10 games under .500 with the clock ticking on down to the All Star Break.
- That's about all I can muster the strength to say. Talk amongst yourselves. It wasn't a game I expected Dallas to win, but it still feels sour when they fight and still come up short. Blah.