Chants of "Beat LA" resonated through the American Airlines Center final minute wore down. A team that just last week was an almost guarantee to lose to the defending champions was about to go up three games to none.
A few clutch free throws, a garbage time bucket, and the Mavericks did something that was viewed as virtually impossible, going up three games to zero against the Lakers with the possibility of a sweep.
But what was really surprising about it? The formula which the Mavericks had developed for the first two games stayed true. They would fight and scrap hard in the first three quarters, through defense and shot making and veteran savvy. They would rely on the unguardable Dirk Nowitzki, a constant in these playoffs, along with key contributions from a couple other bench players. When the fourth quarter rolled around, the Mavericks turned it up one more gear, and it was all over.
I guess Maverick fans should be used to it by now, but its still incredible to remember the Mavericks having an eight point deficit early in the 4th, with all the momentum falling away in pieces. Even after a Rick Carlisle timeout, the only thing the Mavericks achieved in the next three possessions was an offensive charge and missed jumper by Dirk, and a JJB shot just inside the three point line which could not find the net.
And then, without any warning at all, the mentality changed, the switch flipped, and the deficit evaporated. Triggered by the Mavericks, Kobe himself ignited. However, as the quarter drew on, Kobe by himself just could not match Mavericks' teamwork and share-the-ball philosophy offense. And in the end, he just could not match Dirk. There's no shame in that, especially considering all his accomplishments. In twenty years, will Bryant even remember losing in the 2011 NBA Playoffs? But in the end, Dirk Nowitzki has just outshone Kobe, and with at least one more game to play, should have no problem doing it again.
And Here's Why They Won
Dirk Nowitzki. The German wunderkind is simply impossible to stop. He shot 12-19 from the field for 32 points, knocked down four of his five threes, swished four free throws, grabbed nine rebounds, and best of all, did it when it mattered. Down the stretch, Nowitzki was even tougher than usual. Be it Odom, Bynum, or Gasol; the Lakers were fighting an unwinnable war. Dirk set the tone. He hit jumpers, of course, but he drove the ball. He didn't settle. He aggressively registered and-1's, then yanked a long ball without even a split second of hesitation when he found himself open. Dirk's play might not be the flashiest, but his ability to make the jumpers he does is simply not fair to the rest of the league.
Jason Terry, though, deserves huge props too. With 23 points on ten shots, there is quite literally nothing else that one can ask for. He's received tons of criticism over the years, but Terry is shutting up the critics, at least for a little while, with his fantastic play.
And finally, Peja Stojakovic. One of the greatest shooters the NBA has ever seen did not look like it early. Even though he was missing shots, though, Carlisle stuck with him and boy it paid off. In the fourth quarter, as bailout threes and extremely difficult shots were put into the basket by what can only be described as a magic touch. His stout defense on Lamar Odom also forced a miss in the final two minutes, a defensive "dagger", if such a thing exists.