It's not because we expect Monta Ellis to struggle, while we don't expect Dirk to. We don't really expect Monta to STRUGGLE, we just expect him to...well...Monta.
It's not just because Dirk is supposed to be the clutchest of the clutch, while Monta isn't, or that Dirk is a hero around here precisely because of his ability to elevate his game when it matters. It's all part of it, but Dirk's had bad playoff games in his life, and hopefully he'll get the chance to have a few more.
And it's not ENTIRELY because 4-of-14. 4-of-14 can be rearranged to repeatedly reveal the number "41", a clear Illuminati sign if there ever was one.
It's because Dirk, like anyone with aging parents or grandparents, is reaching that point where a bad game or day isn't necessarily just a bad game or day. It could be the beginning of decline, the process that never ends. Obviously, Dirk's game has already declined, both from what he could do in his prime and from what he could do in say, 2011, no longer in his physical peak but so much the master of his game that he was even better.
But he still slapped together a top five MVP season at the age of 35. And it's likely that we'll never see Dirk that good again. If the Mavs are very lucky, and have a good off-season, it'll be because he doesn't have to play enough minutes to put up those numbers again. But either way, he's going down. It's yelling timber. Hopefully it's slow, and there are no major injuries involved. But as Kobe Bryant will tell you, no guarantees. More help could extend his career for a while yet -- or not.
This is, of course, the best reason to watch this series in a different way than usual: not to lament the fact that the Mavs are probably pretty outmatched, but just to enjoy a rare sight passing from this world. It's a pretty remarkable fact that 9,000 years since they first played against each other, in the last Ice Age, the high minutes men on Sunday were Dirk and Tim Duncan, at 42 and 38 minutes respectively. No other Mav played within six minutes of that number, no other Spur with 4 of Timmy.
It really is remarkable. 7,000 years of combined NBA seasons, three million, four hundred thousand combined NBA minutes, and here they are. Except Timmy got to rest all season and Dirk didn't, and it was way too much and now we're just hoping it wasn't so much too much that we won't get to see a vintage Dirk playoff performance again this year.
There really is good news here, which is that this...well, this IS a team capable of almost beating the Spurs in a playoff game, and who knows, maybe will break through one of these days. And most of the pieces are in place for a while. And there's no reason at all to think that Dirk will go from scoring 22 on 50% shooting to 12 on 45% shooting in a year. And the Mavs have money and can keep building, not with the Dwight Howards of the world, but with strong pieces, with Jose Calderon's and Monta Ellis's. There are lots of reasons to expect the Mavs to be better next year than this year.
But there's an old philosophy problem and it goes like this. The Argo, that is, the ship the Argonauts sailed, needs to go in for repairs. If you replace one beam on it, nobody would think that it wasn't the Argo anymore. But what if you replaced every one, but just one at a time? At what point would it stop being the Argo?
Dirk is, and has been for over the decade, the magical ship. It's one thing to watch a good team, it's another thing to watch a transcendent player. As far as I know, they're both good but in the whole recent history of Dallas basketball they've been one and the same. The inescapable fact of the future is that if the Mavs regain relevance it won't be because of Dirk. That is, this season is presumably the apex of what Dirk will ever again offer this team, and while Dirk and a little help = Western Conference Playoffs isn't nothing, it doesn't exactly butter my bread, or whatever.
So if we're going to get better, it's going to be because this Argo gets a lot of new planks. And I really hope that happens, but I'll miss the magic ship, and, y'all, the descent into normalcy is just. so. hard.
But for now, they're not going to keep Dirk down this entire series and it'll be a beautiful thing when it happens.
To many more, big guy.