The Dallas Mavericks are a bad team.
It is painful to say, and unfamiliar as a saying if you've watched Maverick basketball the last 13 years. But it's true.
There have been more than a few bad losses this season. Bad, being able to be defined in all sorts of ways for Dallas. The Mavericks have combed the "bad loss" store for the best variety of bad losses this year, to be sure. This loss, somehow, feels unique, freshly stinging through what I had thought was a tough exterior hardened by bitterness and conditioned to accept disappointment and heartbreak. I don't know if I'm alone there; maybe the rest of you were expecting this one. I wasn't exactly in a completely hopeful place, but I can't say I had quite prepared myself for so complete a meltdown.
Dallas would take on the Memphis Grizzlies tonight in Memphis, on the second night of a back-to-back following a loss against the Milwaukee Bucks, a game where Dallas would cede a five point lead late. If you thought that was impressive, you are stupid! And would be in for a treat!
Halfway through the first quarter, Dallas would march out to a 20-6 lead, hitting on nine of their first 11 shots. All five starters would find the scoring column in that span. It would get better.
Getting into the bonus against the physical Memphis squad, Dallas would stretch their lead at the charity stripe, hitting their freebies and doubling up the Grizzlies 38-19 after one. It would get better.
The Grizzlies, winners of seven straight games entering tonight, would continue to look stiff at the start of the second quarter, missing shots and making bad passes, getting Dallas into transition for easy baskets at the other end(typically the Memphis gameplan). Dirk Nowitzki, coming off his strongest stretch of individual play all season, would come out hot again to start, connecting on four of his first six shots. A Jae Crowder three with just over seven minutes left until halftime made it 47-22. The rout was on.
And then something interesting happened. The game didn't end. The clock kept ticking, as there was still about 30 minutes of actual gametime still left. And Memphis started to play better.
The Grizzlies would go to the line twice, attacking the interior defense of the Mavs, who were at a clear disadvantage in terms of bulk down low. A Mark Gasol three point play would be followed by a Mike Conley steal for another Gasol dunk. Dallas would call a 20 second timeout with the lead still at 19.
Another Conley steal would lead to a Zach Randolph jumper, and not too much later Randolph would bull his way to the line for another pair. The lead was now 15.
On Dallas final possession, a bad Mayo inbound pass would be stolen(are you sensing a trend?) by Darrell Arthur, who would break away for a dunk and make it 13 going into the locker room. Memphis had serious momentum and looked like the aggressor despite the double-digit lead.
In the third quarter, Memphis would take what had been a 16-4 run and elongate it to comical dimensions. They would score the first 20 points of the half. An O.J Mayo free throw with under four minutes left would finally put Dallas on the board, and end a 36-4 run that would see Memphis take their first lead, one they would not surrender. The Mavs would end that quarter having scored five points. Five. I don't care to do the legwork on this one, but I have to imagine it was close to a new standard of ineptitude for Dallas. According to the Memphis media, it was a franchise record for an opponents' quarter total.
In the fourth, Dallas would do better than five points, but it was not enough, as every chance at a run seemed to be undone by ugly turnovers and bad shots. Dirk Nowitzki himself seemed clearly frustrated at points, as he had several shots go in and out on offense(including a three that would have cut the Memphis lead to one with under three minutes left), leaving him unable to galvanize his group into a comeback. Memphis proved equal to the task defensively, matching any physicality from Dallas and showing a clear level of comfort in playing a muddy, in the trenches, fistfight style of basketball.
This was never more evident than when Dallas cut the Grizzly lead to two with two minutes left, and Memphis simply overpowered the Mavs inside, earning a pair free throws for both Gasol and Randolph, as well as a technical from Conley when Elton Brand lost his cool, which would essentially ice the game. That Mike James was playing(again), and missed a pair of shots from within eight feet, seems almost secondary, but likely played a role in their fate. Without oversimplifying things, it should say something about where Dallas is at right now that critical shots are being taken by a 37-year old who had played a total of 15 games the last three seasons, and had began this one overseas.
Memphis is noted for their ability to create turnovers, and so one could have probably predicted this to be a tough matchup for a Dallas team that can, at times, be loose with the ball. 21 miscues from the Mavs led to 23 points off turnovers. Memphis also pummeled Dallas on the glass to the tune of 46-34(even though Memphis shot much worse than Dallas), and the Grizzlies did work at the line, with the bigman tandem of Randolph and Gasol going 17-21 there. Dallas, as a team, went 15-19.
The three point blizzard also continued for Dallas, as they shot just 3-12. O.J. Mayo, perhaps so terrified by his continual slide from behind the arc(look upon his month-to-month 3 point splits and despair), did not even attempt a three-pointer.
A thousand words later, I'm not sure I have much left to say about this awful, awful game, other than I'm glad it's over and I don't ever want to think about it again. As the season winds down for Dallas, I think the time for Mike James playing key minutes late should be over, as should the DNP's for Bernard James and Roddy Beaubois. Evaluating who might be able to play key roles next season is about all we're going to be able to get from this last month and a half. Might as well start now.
For more abuse check out Grizzly Bear Blues.