If it can both be true that the Mavericks played terrific basketball, beating the Washington Wizards 107-98, and also ture would have lost had they not been playing the Wizards, then both those things are true tonight.
Since I write for a fan site—an extremely lovely one, by the way—and not for ESPN, and because I do not announce Mavs games, I am 100% free to say that no one will ever convince me that the NBA is not essentially crooked. Because I also think it’s silly to say that winners find a way to win no matter what (what about a guy who wins, but then loses? Does he even exist?) I feel perfectly comfortable saying that tonight was old Mavs nemesis Dan Crawford’s way of saying "I LET you win a championship, but that doesn’t mean we’re cool. It just means too many people were watching."
Here’s what happened:
First of all, the first half was all about the sublime brillance of Dirk Nowitzki. He not only did everything he wanted, the only shot he missed in the first half was a three-pointer. Roddy Beaubois was also terrific, but this was the kind of night that only Dirk has. I’ve seen him do it against the Spurs and the Thunder in the playoffs, and I’ve seen him do it many times in the regular season. Because his shot is, unlikely anyone else in the NBA, completely unguardable, if he gets into a nice groove, he doesn’t have to miss. And sometimes, he doesn’t. He had 20 at half, and over 80% shooting percentage, and seemed poised for an enormous night.
Unfortunately, two things were true. The first was that every time Carlisle took Dirk out, the Wizards surged—the other guys on the team, with the notable exception of Beaubois (8-14 for 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and a block), as has been the case for about ten games now just couldn’t hit a shot. And Lamar Odom was exceptionally bad. Every Mav who played tonight had a posiitve +/- with the exception of Marion (-1), Haywood (-2), and Lamar Odom at -13. ‘Nuff said.
The second thing is this: Dirk simply was not allowed to play in the second half. Let me give you this sequence:
8:15 left in the third: Dirk fouls Trevor Booker as he lightly grazes his t-shirt while stepping back, 10 feet from the basket, to grab an o-board and hit a shot (which obviously didn’t count). Foul #2. 7: 26, Javale Mcgee and Dirk enter the same spot, foul #3 on Dirk. Lamar Odom comes in.
6:50 in the quarter, Travis Booker shoots two free throws, 6: 24 in the quarter, Trevor Booker shots two free throws, 5: 39 John Wall makes two free throws, cutting the lead to four and Dirk enters the game. 5:07, Trevor Booker misses a layup, Dirk gets called for the foul (#4), sits down. Trevor Booker misses both free throws, Chris Singleton gets the offensive board, is in the vicinity of a Mavs player, Chris Singleton gets two free throws, still 5:07. 4:20, Nick Young shoots two free throws. 4: 19: Danny Crawford has a visible erection.
The point is this. Well, point #1 is that I want to complain. But point #2 is that this set the scene for the most encouraging thing I’ve seen from these Mavericks all season.
Because what did they do when their only star, and one of two guys who had been playing well couldn’t make it back on the court for the fourth? And when every thing that happened was a foul on the Mavs? And the 15 point lead they’d bult up narrowed to 2 with 5:07 left, that is, when it was USUAL MAVS RECIPE FOR DISASTER-TIME, MIX WELL WITH WATER?
They just rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Shawn Marion got to the line. Followed by Nick Young going to the line, as Danny Crawford did a bizarre and impromptu Irish jig at mid-court. Vince Carter made a three. Ian Mahimni made a two. Vince Carter made a two. Terry stole the ball from Andray Blatche and made a two. Nick Young went to line, as Danny Crawford solemnly blew a kazoo, but Terry hit a two, then missed one, which Roddy tipped in.
John Wall went to the line to end the quarter, as Danny Crawford waxed his moustache, but that 8-point lead the Mavs built up DESPITE everything was their most impressive lead in a long, long time. Despite who they were playing. Because after everything that’s happened these last two weeks, they weren’t doing it again, and they didn’t.
Dirk Nowitzki even got to spend a full minute on the court in the middle of the fourth before Danny called him for his fifth foul. It was a glorious minute. He made a shot. (He ended up with 27 on 14 shots, in under 30 minutes. He did okay).
The Wiz had one more run in them, including an impressive and-one from Javale Mcgee and some fine shot-making from Jordan Crawford and John Wall, bringing the lead within 8 with 6:05 left, but Lamar Odom, as he has done so many times, took the Mavs on his back and made an impressive and-one, and that was all she wrote.
Dirk Nowitzki was even allowed to play the whole last 3:43 of the game, as Danny Crawford’s whistle broke under the strain.
Here’s the thing:
I hate calling a win over the Wizards the most impressive win in a long time. I have to, one, because the Mavs haven’t won in a long time, but two because adversity is a thing. Adversity is playing a million games in a million minus one nights, struggling through all of them, and it’s playing a very winnable game, where by all intents and purposes you’re playing very well, but it might not matter cause the other guys have 30 free throws with more than 4 minutes left in the third quarter and your star can’t step on the court.
It was dirty. It was frustrating. It was REALLY borderline---I'm pretty sure Vince Carter took himself out of the game, after his fifth foul. He walked right over to the sideline, shaking his head, and I'd bet money he was saying "if I can't play THAT defense, I can't do anything," and he wasn't wrong. But--
For once, and for the first time in a long time, the Mavericks made the shots they had to make. And they did it without Dirk, whom Danny Crawford could be seen aiming a soporific blow-dart at, while he was on the bench. Terry got it, Roddy got it, Marion got it. They did it. They never lost the lead. They outrebounded the Wiz by 13. They only turned it over 12 times. They didn’t bow to adversity.
And I don't care who it was against. Yes, it was the Wizards. And yes, a new audience got to see how hilarious watching Javale McGee is it. But I’ll take it, for sure—because I’d take anything at this point, sure, but I would definitely take this. Every day.
Coach Norman Dale once showed his young hick boys that the hoop in a big college stadium is just as far from the floor, and it's just as true that the same shot, shot the same way, goes in in every arena. It's the Bobcats up next, another chance to find themselves, and hopefully, make a little hay.