For the Mavericks, Game 2 can be labeled as a disappointment. Ask any Maverick, and a close game at home, with Dirk scoring 29 points on seventeen shots, and they will tell you that they should have won. For an aging team of veterans who lack the stamina and athleticism of twenty-two years old, closing games is a necessary strength, which they have relied on time and time again. To fail to do so is just that: a failure, for everyone involved on the Mavericks team. But there's another strength that comes with the NBA longevity most Maverick players have had: poise.
Poise. It means that losing Game 2 and home court advantage is disappointing, but not devastating. It means that the Oklahoma City bench outplaying the Mavericks' is a concern, but not a fear. It means that Dirk missing a big free throw late in the game is a testament to how good he is to have hit 40+ consecutively, not a knock on his clutch play down the stretch (16 points in the 4th quarter invalidates that argument).
And now, as the Mavericks head on the road to Oklahoma City, to face their opponents in front of a lively, vivacious crowd cheering against them, is not something that makes them uneasy. Most of the Mavericks have been facing crowds and noise and atmospheres just like this for years. And just look at the Mavericks this year: they battled Portland twice on the road in Round 1, closing the series out with a Game 6 victory. They swept the Lakers, shockingly taking both Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles.. During the regular season, the Mavericks were the best road team in the entire league with a 28-13 road record. Two of the those twenty-eight wins were in Oklahoma City. The first game, on November 24th, featured Dirk scoring 34 points and Tyson Chandler with a monster double-double of 17-18.
The second, though, is much more memorable. Dirk injured his knee in the first half, but the Mavericks were still able to come back and win. This win put Dallas at 24-5, with an almost perfect 11-1 record on the road. Caron Butler's injury just a few games later just added to the tail-spin that the 2nd seed Mavericks succumbed to until the return of Dirk Nowitzki. But for Game 3, the Mavericks have Dirk, and they have confidence.
But just what does home court advantage do for a team? It is established that a roaring, sell-out crowd of 18,203 in the Oklahoma City Arena is more a nuisance to the Maverick veterans, as evidenced by their play this season. However, that same crowd also energizes the home team. What must the Mavericks do to stop the crowd from having an impact?
It's all about momentum. Kevin Durant will score whether he's playing at home, on the road, or in a zero gravity space ship. Nick Collison will scrap and get position and draw charges regardless. Every team has constants, who play the same, whether its their personal gym or the biggest game of their career. But players like Russell Westbrook, Eric Maynor, and Serge Ibaka, they play best when they establish a rhythm. If the Mavericks allow these players to get a couple of baskets, the crowd will accelerate them to being more aggressive. Its up to the Mavericks to prevent the point guards from getting easy penetration, which even if the shot is defended well will lead to second chance points. Its up the veterans, namely Kidd, Nowitzki and Terry, to slow down, work the clock, and get a score to quiet the crowd after a huge fast break dunk.
That's poise, right there. Playing the game under control. Finding good shots, exploiting the defense when weaknesses are found, and finally capitalizing on it and putting the basket in the hole. The Mavericks may have made it harder on themselves by losing home court advantage, but they see it as no more than a setback. And after years of dealing with setbacks in the postseason, this group of veterans is finally ready to overcome one.